Bob's Big Boy: The Story of an LA Icon

Double-Deck Hamburger, Googie and Classic Cars

Bob's Big Boy in Burbank
Bob's Big Boy in Burbank | Photo: @amrcnsplndr, Instagram

You've probably seen him — the chubby kid with the cowlick and the mischievous glint in his eye. The larger-than-life statue is only one of the many iconic elements that make Bob's Big Boy in Burbank stand out. The diner is such a classic it was named a California Point of Historical Interest. Opened in 1949, it's the oldest operating Bob's Big Boy in the United States. It's also famous for its architecture, its classic car nights and its nostalgic appeal.

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Bob's Big Boy | Photo courtesy of Thomas Hawk, Flickr

1. The Look

Architect Wayne McAllister was inspired by the Space Age, World's Fair pavilions and roadside dining culture when he designed the building. Large, curving windows contrast with sharp angles, incorporating elements of Streamline Moderne and Midcentury Modernism. McAllister also mixed the practical with the eye-popping. The 70-foot-tall neon sign, which made it easy for drivers to see the coffee shop from the road, was so distinctive it helped build the Bob's Big Boy brand. McAllister designed many popular restaurants including The Smoke House in Burbank and several circular drive-ins, all of which are now gone. He was also responsible for several early Las Vegas casinos including The Sands, The Desert Inn and The Fremont.

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The famous statue at Bob's Big Boy in Burbank | Instagram by @celli.c

2. The History

Bob Wian got his start as a restaurateur in 1936, opening Bob's Pantry, a 10-seat burger stand in Glendale. He sold his DeSoto Roadster for the $350 he used to launch the business. A chubby kid named Richard Woodruff began sweeping and doing chores around the place in exchange for free burgers. He would eventually become the model for the famous statue outside the current restaurant.

Bob's Big Boy Combo
Big Boy Combo featuring the original double-deck hamburger | Photo: Bob's Big Boy

3. Where's the Beef?

A year later, in 1937, Wian is credited with inventing the double-decker hamburger. One night, band members from Chuck Foster's orchestra came in and asked for something different. Wian cut a traditional hamburger bun into three horizontal slices and loaded them up with two patties, lettuce, cheese and his special red relish. It was a hit. Three decades later, McDonald's Big Mac was inspired by the classic Big Boy burger.

Bob's Big Boy Cruise Night
1936 Ford 5-Window Coupe | Photo: Bob's Big Boy

4. Car Culture

From the start, Bob's Big Boy has been all about the auto. At the long, low canopies behind the restaurant, drivers could park and wait for waitresses to take their orders and bring them food. Car hop service only ended in 2014. Every Friday night, classic car enthusiasts like Jay Leno converge on Bob's, showing off gorgeous vintage hot rods, drag cars and all kind of exotic autos. The Classic Car Show dates back to the 1950s and anyone can show up. If you want to check out the informal car show, come any Friday night between 4 and 10 p.m. It's also a good time to soak up a little history. You can talk to the regulars, some of whom have been eating at Bob's for decades.

Scene from "Heat" at Bob's Big Boy in Burbank
Val Kilmer and Robert De Niro at Bob's Big Boy in "Heat"  |  Photo: @filmtourismus
Scene from "Heat" at Bob's Big Boy in Burbank
Scene from "Heat" at Bob's Big Boy in Burbank  |  Photo: @filmtourismus

5. Star Studded

The coffee shop has been a favorite with many famous types, from comedian Bob Hope to filmmaker David Lynch. In the summer of 1965, while touring to support the album Help!, the Beatles wanted to eat at a real American diner. The foursome, essentially the most popular boy band in the world, sat in one of the burgundy vinyl booths facing Riverside Drive. A plaque at the booth commemorates the meal.

Michael Mann shot scenes from his 1995 thriller Heat at the restaurant. In one scene, Val Kilmer and Robert DeNiro use the diner to plan a bank heist that's destined to end in a massive gun battle.

6. Saved by History

In 1967, Wian sold the Big Boy chain to the Marriott Corporation for $7 million. Two decades later, the Elias Brothers, one of the chain's largest franchise operators, bought the company and moved its headquarters to Michigan. In the 1990s, the MacDonald family, owners of the Burbank building and the land it sits on, wanted to raze the structure and erect an office building in its place. Preservationists saved the historic building from that fate. The Elias Brothers declared bankruptcy in 2000 and sold the chain, which is now named Big Boy Restaurants International.

Bob's Big Boy Steak 'N Eggs
Steak 'N Eggs | Photo: Bob's Big Boy

7. The Menu

Bob's Big Boy still specializes in classic American diner food: sandwiches, chicken fried steak, top sirloin, fried shrimp and burgers. Lots of burgers. In addition to the iconic double-decker, new iterations include a Bacon Cheeseburger and vegan and vegetarian options. Another popular dish: the Big Ham Steak Breakfast, which features three eggs and a thick, 8-ounce slice of ham.

Bob's Big Boy
4211 W Riverside Dr.
Burbank, CA 91505
(818) 843-9334