Why do they call it that? Checkers and Rally's: Tampa's burger chain

6:44 AM, May 9, 2012   |    comments
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It's a double drive-thru spot known for big burgers and tasty fries. Did you know Checkers got its big break in Tampa Bay?

Why do they call them Checkers Drive-In Restaurants?

What do home run king Hank Aaron, The Band Perry, astronaut Kay Hire and Jimmy Buffet all have in common?

They all started out in Mobile, Alabama. Then they hit the road.

The story's the same for a little building of burger goodness called Checkers.

"Three restaurants were developed in Mobile, then the company actually moved to Tampa," said Checkers CEO -- and your Bay Area neighbor -- Rick Silva.

"We've been in Tampa for over 20 years. The brand has been around for over 25 years."

All of the company's big burger decision makers moved to Tampa. Why would they do that?

Money. Tampa is where a big new investor lived. They followed the man with the cash.

"A local gentleman, Mr. [Herbert] Brown, actually saw the brand in Mobile, Alabama and he brought the business here and it's been actually in the Tampa area ever since," Silva said.

"We have over 800 restaurants across the country and the national headquarters is right here in Tampa."

But not every hungry customer pulls up to the same place to place their order.

Drink cups proudly carry the Checkers logo. But there's another logo right below it. It's the logo of Rally's -- a different restaurant chain with locations mainly in the Midwest.

Rally's locations have double drive-thrus, seasoned fries, and a burger called the Big Buford. Just like Checkers. Come to think of it... Rally's is a whole lot like Checkers.

"Rally's started in 1985, Checkers in 1986. They were actually very similar companies; they were competitors in the industry. In 1999, they came together -- the companies merged," Silva said.

"The two businesses are identical. So when you walk into a restaurant, if it says Checkers or Rally's -- whether it's the food, the menu, the experience -- it's exactly the same. The only difference is the name."

And what about that name: Checkers?

The company says its founders wanted to build a national brand, so they looked to a national pasttime: that delightful, diagonal board game of Checkers.

The pattern and colors worked wonderfully for an easygoing establishment like this one.

By the way, Checkers has not bailed on Mobile, Alabama. They've just unveiled a new restaurant design. And first opened for business right next door to the company's very first store.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

All this month, our "Why do they call it that?" series is looking at big restaurant names born in Tampa Bay.

Next Wednesday, you'll meet one of the guys from Clearwater who had the guts to name his new restaurant Hooters.

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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