Can you imagine a time when there were relatively few fast-food chains, coffee was just coffee and entrepreneurs were not all in a line to open the next, trendy bistro? I can. I grew up in that era. Back then, dinnertime meant lining up around the table instead of lining up around the drive-up window, Starbuck was still that guy from “Moby Dick”, and “Chez” was just a misspelling of the place where the Mets played. Yet, we were all tempted by the forbidden fruit and eventually found the way out of Eden. Along the road, a number of restaurants came and went. One of those was the Red Barn.
The Red Barn was a hamburger rival of both Burger King and McDonald’s, but they were also the first to offer both chicken and fish. Their signature hamburger, the “Big Barney” actually predated the “Big Mac” by a bit, and their quarter pound burger, the “Barnbuster” actually came before the “Quarter Pounder” even though it strongly resembled the “Whopper”. Their most used slogan went, “When the hungries hit, when the hungries hit, hit the Red Barn”. The “Hungries” were their three iconic mascots. Hamburger Hungry originally looked like Ernie from Sesame Street, but they gave him a cap and a V-neck sweater to avoid confusion. Chicken Hungry looked like a fried leg of chicken, and Fish Hungry was just a big, blue fish. Even though I ate there from time to time, to tell the truth, I really do not remember much about the food. Personally, I remember preferring the products of both McDonald’s and Burger King, and that new upstart, “Taco Bell”. I never tried Red Barn fried-chicken and I never ate their fish. Nonetheless, I still have fond memories of Red Barn from High School.
In the 70s, when I still ate such things, the Red Barn was our school’s Friday hangout. On Fridays after school sporting events, everyone would meet down at the Red Barn over on 73rd and Federal in Westminster. Curiously enough, our cross-town rivals, Ranum, would meet just up the road and across the street at the McDonald’s. Even though they had the better food choice, we had the better “winter” choice because that McDonald’s was one of the old, golden arches McDonald’s with no indoor seating and no patio. Our Red Barn had ample indoor seating and everyone knew to meet there for a snack before deciding how to spend the rest of the Friday evening. Many good, Friday memories contain a meeting earlier in the evening at the Red Barn.
At their peak, Red Barn had over 400 restaurants in 19 States and two foreign countries, but, for whatever reason, they did not make it. They had the loyal clientele, they had the handouts and they had a decent product, but they still sailed into oblivion sometime in the late 70’s. You can still find remnants of old Red Barns turned something else like other restaurants, car dealerships or rental stores, but other than those faded memories and a few mementos, Red Barn Hamburgers are now just a part of history.
If you ever ate there, colored in one of their coloring books or took home a free glass, you are part of the history. You actually still can visit that history at www.barnbuster.net. This website is completely devoted to the memory of the Red Barn complete with pictures, commercials snippits, and T-shirts for sale. I tried to get some of their pictures to post here for your enjoyment, but was unable. Nonetheless, if you are interested at all, all the general memories are parked there for posterity. As for the personal memories, I’ll just smile and keep those to myself.