Last Oklahoma site stands in fast-food chain after 70 years
EL DORADO, Ark. (AP) — When it comes to the history of Arkansas-based fast food, Linda McGoogan is king of the grill, owner of the last Minute Man standing.
May 26 marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Minute Man chain by Wesley T. “Wes” Hall of Little Rock. McGoogan has been around for many of those years, either as an employee or owner of Minute Man No. 14, in downtown El Dorado.
When Jim Hansen closed the doors to the Minute Man at Fourth Street and Broadway in downtown Little Rock on May 31, 2002, that left only Minute Man No. 14. Hall himself had died just days before, on May 8, at 87.
McGoogan started at Minute Man No. 14, one of two in El Dorado at the time, as an employee sometime in the 1970s and bought the restaurant in 1984, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported .
Declining to give her age, she shows no signs of slowing.
“Minute Man, hold,” McGoogan spoke into the telephone, then turned to pass a bag of burgers out the drive-thru window before returning to the call-in order.
Several feet away on a recent afternoon, after the lunch-crowd rush had thinned, Len Walden of El Dorado was enjoying the No. 6 “salad burger” — a charbroiled beef patty topped with shredded lettuce, tomato and relish sauce — fries and an order of cheese dip.
Walden, 59, said he doesn’t eat very often at Minute Man but enjoys it when he does. “It’s good to have places like this, and you need to visit them before it’s too late,” he said.
Hansen, up in Little Rock, could relate.
His final two days of business — announced a few days earlier — brought in the biggest crowd of customers in the 15 years he’d owned the Minute Man on Broadway and another on Asher Avenue that was closed years earlier. “I wonder where my customers were before,” Hansen lamented to a newspaper reporter visiting Hansen on his Minute Man’s last day. (Hansen’s Minute Man was razed and is now a parking lot.)
At its height, in the 1970s, Minute Man had 52 restaurants, some corporate owned and some franchised, in eight states. About 20 were in Arkansas.
McGoogan had three young children at home when she went to work at Minute Man, for the afternoon/evening shift. “I had three kids; I needed the job,” she said. Her husband, Paul, worked days at a manufacturing plant and kept the kids at night.
“Oh, I guess my job then was doing whatever — I took orders, I put up the buns, I cooked the meat, I answered the phone, I worked the drive-thru,” she said in her usual rapid-fire delivery, then offering a rare pause. “That’s about like what I do today.”
Paul McGoogan pitches in part time at the restaurant, as does their son Brent.
She doesn’t expect the Minute Man to stay in the family.
“They don’t want it, they wouldn’t make it without me,” she said with a grin. “I am indispensable. Just ask ’em.”
McGoogan has a train of thought that’s in the fast lane. “A man called earlier from Branson (Missouri), said he was coming down to El Dorado just to have a No. 2 burger with mustard,” she said. “I think he’s crazy but whatever. He said he used to live in Little Rock. He sounded like an older man. He was nice.”
What’s changed at Minute Man? Everything, yet nothing.
“Everything changes everywhere,” she said. “Except here. Well, maybe the menu. A little. Mexican food was added before we bought it. I think that helped us a lot.”
At 318 W. Main St., McGoogan’s Minute Man is just off El Dorado’s reborn city center, where trendy farm-to-table restaurants cater to crowds drawn to the city’s $100 million Murphy Arts District, with its amphitheater and music hall. “There’s lots of competition,” she said. “New places in El Dorado that I probably can’t afford to step into, but I’m glad they’re here.”
Wes Hall’s Minute Man restaurants also were known for their Radar Deep Dish Fruit Pie, a double-crusted masterpiece of peach, strawberry or apple heated to mouth-scorching temperatures in a then-newfangled device called the RadaRange first put out by the Raytheon Co. on a trial basis in 1948.
The RadaRange has gone the way of the microwave; the Radar pies simply went away.
“Can’t have people dying from eating too many pies,” McGoogan cracked.
The pies, though, are still listed on the El Dorado menu board — at 99 cents. “That tells you it’s been a while since we had them, I guess,” McGoogan said.
McGoogan has no plans to retire anytime soon.
“I’ve had too many friends who did that,” she said. “They started sitting around and dying off. You gotta keep going.”
But, when retirement does come, what will she miss?
McGoogan thought for a minute.
“I like the people,” she said. “They come by, have a coke, and sit and talk. Maybe that’s what I’d miss. And the No. 2 hickory burger. I’d miss that.”
Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com