Druther’s traces our history back to 1956, when Harold and Helen Kite opened the first Burger Queen restaurant in Winter Haven, Florida. In the early 1960s, business partners George Clark and Jim Gannon bought franchise rights and permission to expand the chain to Kentucky, later forming our main company with Harold Kite and George Clark’s brother, John Clark. In the early 1980s, Burger Queen and Druther’s executives Tom Hensley and Robert Gatewood acquired our companies from Harold Kite and George Clark.
Druther’s, headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky and headed by Robert Gatewood and Brian Easley, is proud to currently partner with, invest in, and provide support to locally-owned and operated Dairy Queen® restaurants, Longwood Antique Woods, as well as various business and real estate ventures. Our company recently turned 60 years old. In those six decades, we’ve been a part of over 350 businesses in multiple states and countries. We look forward to the next chapter of the Druther’s story, and we thank all of those individuals and families who have been a part of the company, or who we have had the privilege of serving at our restaurants.
Highlights of the Druther’s story include:
1956: Harold and Helen Kite moved from Missouri to Winter Haven, Florida to open the first Burger Queen restaurant on Havendale Boulevard near the popular Cypress Gardens. Burger Queen was born. Kite’s company would later become Burger Queen Systems, Inc. Helen was the original Burger Queen, and was the operator of the restaurant, while Harold focused on business and franchising, as well as worked as a Taylor Freezer salesman. The Florasota Distributing Company, formerly the Florasota Equipment Company, begins seeking franchise partners throughout Florida and surrounding states for Burger Queen on behalf of Kite starting in September, after their success franchising for Dairy Mart in Florida.
1958: Harold Kite incorporates Burger Queen Systems, Inc. in December and serves as chief executive officer and chairman of the board.
1960: Charles Strowmatt, Harold Kite’s Sarasota partner and president of the company, unexpectedly passes away in June.
1961: The Florida chain, owned by Harold Kite and a group of franchisees, grows to 16 locations across Florida. Jim “Mick” Gannon, a friend of Harold Kite through the Taylor Freezer business, and his business partner George Clark, paid $5000 for franchise rights and permission to bring Burger Queen to Kentucky. Burger Queen of Louisville was born. The company would later become Burger Queen Enterprises.
1962: Funding is secured and site chosen for Gannon and Clark’s first Kentucky location in the Middletown area of Louisville. Construction begins on the site in late 1962.
1963: Our first Kentucky location opens on September 23rd in the Middletown area of Louisville, Kentucky. George Clark’s brother, John, would come on board a few months later.
1965: A young man named Michael Kull joins the ranks, and begins his career as one of our longest-serving executives, as well as President and CEO of Dairy Queen Corporate Stores from 1999-2011. Another youngster, Ron Colyer, who would later become an executive and franchisee, as well as lead the Royal Equipment Company, would also join the staff of the first Burger Queen in Middletown, working on the front line.
1967: The Pillsbury Company acquires Burger King.
1968: Burger Queen Enterprises is incorporated by Harold Kite, George Clark, Mick Gannon and John Clark.
1969: The Middletown location of the first Kentucky Burger Queen with the old building model is closed. The new Burger Queen, featuring the now classic construction model, opens across the street at 11806 Shelbyville Road on July 21st.
1970: Jim Gannon and John Clark of Burger Queen Enterprises of Kentucky depart the company.
1971: Joe Bonura, a young ad executive, created “Queenie Bee” for Burger Queen – the beloved mascot of the chain of restaurants. Queenie was most notably portrayed by actresses Joyce Murphy and Susan Bandy. Queenie’s nemesis was a Mr. John B. Catcher, and “Let’s All Follow Queenie Bee, it’s Burger Queen For Me!” was one of our popular jingles. An agreement is reached with American Dairy Queen in regard to the use of our Burger Queen tradename, clearing any future conflict between the two companies.
1972: Joe Bonura forms the Bon Advertising Agency, and spends more than a decade with the Burger Queen, and later the Druther’s Restaurants, account. Harold Kite owns and operates 6 Burger Queen locations in Florida, with plans to open a 7th location in Punta Gorda the next year.
1973: Burger Queen Enterprises of Kentucky opens its 50th location on December 15th. Michael Kull is promoted to Executive Vice President.
1974: Burger Queen begins publishing “The Hive Jive” corporate newsletter for our Kentucky group of restaurants and “The Beeline” corporate newsletter for our Florida group of restaurants. There are now 55 Burger Queen locations in Clark’s Kentucky-based system and 10 locations in Kite’s Florida-based system. Breakfast is introduced system-wide.
1975: Tom Hensley opens his first Burger Queen in eastern Kentucky on May 24th. Hensley would later acquire the company from Clark and Kite with his business partner and Burger Queen general counsel, Robert Gatewood.
1976: Burger Queen Enterprises opened King Neptune’s Seafood Galley in Louisville, hoping to enter the seafood segment of the fast food industry. To emphasize Burger Queen’s focus on quality beef, George Clark buys the Grand Champion steer from the North American Livestock Show. The 1,255 pound steer was purchased by Clark for $3,890.50. The chain had 65 locations in the Kentucky-based group. Burger King relinquishes the Burger Queen trademark after twenty years of legal action with Harold Kite of Burger Queen Systems. Harold Kite takes ownership of the Burger Queen trademark in Florida in April 1976. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of opening the first Burger Queen in Winter Haven, Florida, Burger Queen, led by George Clark and Harold Kite, begin the search for international franchise partners to take Burger Queen, our burgers, fried chicken and Queenie Bee across the globe; the company meets with businessmen from across the Americas, as well as overseas beyond the Pacific and Atlantic.
1977: George Clark and Harold Kite make Tom Hensley third partner and Vice President of Burger Queen Enterprises in July. Kite’s Florida-based company maintains 16 locations and is poised for further expansion. International partners are found in Canada, Taiwan, UAE and the United Kingdom. North Atlantic Cod is added chain-wide, via a new Norwegian partner. The decision was made to incorporate more fish options into the Burger Queen system, instead of moving forward with the separate chain of King Neptune’s Seafood Galley. Burger Queen now serves a fish sandwich, fish and chips, and fish dinners with french-fried potatoes, cole slaw and hush puppies.
1978: Burger Queen goes global. Our first international locations open up in Red Deer, Canada and Taipei, Taiwan. Robert Gatewood joins Burger Queen as general counsel. Gatewood would later acquire the company from Clark and Kite with his business partner, Tom Hensley. A few months before our Taiwan location opens, a restaurant company in the Philippines changes its name and begins to serve a menu of burgers and fried chicken, as well as adopt a large bee as its mascot, after working with a franchising management consultant in the Pacific. Kite’s Florida-based company operates 18 locations and plans to add 6 new restaurants in 1979.
1979: Our first United Kingdom location opens in Wood Green, north London, on October 23rd. Under advisement from our partners in the UK, restaurants would be branded as Huckleberry’s, out of respect for the British people and the Queen. Difficulties arise in acquiring a Burger Queen trademark outside of the United States, mainly due to foreign courts’ confusion between Burger Queen and Burger King. Our partner in the Huckleberry’s venture was Chef & Brewer, a subsidiary of Grand Metropolitan, which would later become DIAGEO. Our Huckleberry’s logo, created through our partnership with Coca-Cola, featured a Norman Rockwell painting of “Out Fishin'” that featured a young Huck Finn look-alike with a fishing pole. Salad Bars are installed in all restaurants, serving a wide variety of fresh salad vegetables as well as Druther’s exclusive fried vegetables and potato wedges. Tom Hensley becomes President of Burger Queen Enterprises. The company begins the search for a new name. Lippincott & Marguiles of New York are contracted, and a list of two thousand possibilities is created. That original list is later whittled down to sixty possibilities, with each name being reviewed by both Burger Queen Enterprises and Lippincott & Marguiles. In December, Clark, Kite, Hensley, Kull and Gatewood are provided three new branding options by Lippincott & Marguiles, including the name selection Druther’s.
1980: Clark, Kite, Hensley, Kull and Gatewood choose Druther’s as the name selection for the rebrand. An agreement is reached with Anheuser-Busch in regard to use of our Druther’s trademark, as that company had a line of carbonated soft drinks using the name Druthers. Hensley notifies all franchisees, operators and personnel of the name change on July 25th. The first Druther’s Restaurants open in test in Union City, Tennessee and Fulton, Kentucky, using only a simplified, plain type style version of Druther’s, and not the iconic Druther’s logo and design package that would be introduced the next year. The entire chain completes the rollout of the new salad bar in September. There are 176 locations in the Kentucky-based company group.
1981: Burger Queen rebrands to Druther’s Restaurants with help from Grey-North Advertising of Chicago and Lippincott & Marguiles of New York. The new name and trademark were submitted and granted federal registration. The name change not only provided the company with a more marketable tradename and the public with a more accurate impression of the choice of food items offered, but also provided a federally registered trademark where our previous name did not. Lippincott creates the new Druther’s logo. Grey Advertising creates Andy Dandytale. Burger Queen Enterprises of Kentucky would change our name to Druther’s International, Inc. with Tom Hensley and Robert Gatewood in control. “Andy Dandytale” would become our mascot and “I’d Ruther Go To Druther’s Restaurant” became our jingle. Prior to the rebrand, we had operated over 200 company-owned or franchised locations within the United States, from Florida to Missouri, as well as international locations in the United Kingdom, Canada, Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates, etc. As of 2019, the last independent Burger Queens in the world, former franchises, remain in Taipei, Taiwan.
1982: Tom Hensley and Robert Gatewood acquire the company completely from Harold Kite and George Clark in September. Burger Queen locations in Florida begin closing their doors. Harold Kite later joins friends John Hardin and Frank Savoie in the Poppa Jay’s chain of restaurants. Hensley and Gatewood would later approach Canadian Adam Miles from A.B. Burger Queen and our Huckleberry’s venture in the United Kingdom in regard to becoming the third partner in the company.
1984: Druther’s International and Grand Metropolitan (later known as DIAGEO) reach an agreement to dissolve and sell the 17 Huckleberry’s locations in the United Kingdom to the Wimpy Bar restaurant chain.
1985: Druther’s operates 158 Druther’s Restaurant locations in 8 states (Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Virginia, West Virginia, Illinois, Ohio, and Missouri). Hensley and Gatewood of Druther’s take steps to acquire The Fresher Cooker restaurant chain after that chain’s bankruptcy. Druther’s acquires eighty-five percent of the stock of what was then known as The Fresher Cooker, Inc., changed its name to The Cooker Concepts, Inc., and took control over the operations of several restaurants under the name Fresher Cooker.
1987: Druther’s begins publishing The Front Line, the Druther’s corporate newsletter. The company operates 155 locations from Virginia to Missouri.
1988: Druther’s ends our Canadian partnership with Adam Miles of A.B. Burger Queen with assistance from the Royal Bank of Canada. Grand Metropolitan acquires Pillsbury and Burger King, as well as the Wimpy Bar restaurant chain, which it merges with Burger King.
1989: Druther’s, via a Chicago broker, begins the search for a new equity partner. Communications begin with International Dairy Queen in August.
1990: Druther’s agrees to become a territory operator for Dairy Queen® and converts 117 Druther’s locations in six states to the Dairy Queen® brand. Our breakfast program, served since our Burger Queen days, is introduced to the Dairy Queen® system. Nine remaining company-owned and twelve franchise locations are unable to convert due to major proximity conflicts with existing Dairy Queens. The twelve franchise locations are given multiple options, including the option to remain independent Druther’s locations, with our approval. As of 2019, the last independent Druther’s Restaurant in the world, a former franchise run by the second-generation owner Steve McCarty, remains in downtown Campbellsville, Kentucky.
1991: The conversion to Dairy Queen® is completed. The “Druther’s Phenomenon” within the Dairy Queen® system begins. We would reorganize our company, merging Druther’s International, Inc. and The Cooker Concepts, Inc., into our holding company, Druther’s Systems, Inc. in October.
1996: Tom Hensley and Bob Gatewood begin to sell the company stores to Dairy Queen® for the sole purpose of creating Dairy Queen Corporate Stores, a wholly-owned Dairy Queen subsidiary, which former Burger Queen and Druther’s executives, employees, and joint venture partners would operate based out of our Louisville headquarters, and of which Hensley, and later Mike Kull, would become President. Druther’s Systems remains operational as a multi-unit franchisee, with Robert Gatewood in control as President, operating alongside Dairy Queen Corporate Stores.
1997: Berkshire Hathaway and Warren Buffett agree to buy International Dairy Queen, Inc. on October 21st.
1998: Tom Hensley, former Burger Queen and Druther’s President, as well as President of Dairy Queen Corporate Stores, passes away in Wyoming in November.
1999: Mike Kull, former Burger Queen and Druther’s executive, becomes President of Dairy Queen Corporate Stores after the death of Tom Hensley. Helen Kite, the co-founder of Burger Queen, passes away in Florida.
2000: International Dairy Queen and a franchisee committee, including Burger Queen and Druther’s alumni, develops the Dairy Queen® Grill & Chill® concept.
2001: The first Dairy Queen® Grill & Chill® model restaurant opens in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
2002: Dairy Queen® announces the DQ Grill & Chill® concept as the path forward for the company.
2008: John Gainor becomes CEO of International Dairy Queen, Inc. in July.
2010: Dairy Queen® communicates its intent to dissolve Dairy Queen Corporate Stores and put up our former locations for sale to a strategic partner in Minnesota. Druther’s is not approached regarding the purchase of our former locations.
2011: Former Burger Queen and Druther’s executive Mike Kull retires as President of Dairy Queen Corporate Stores, as all company locations are sold off. Druther’s is not approached by Dairy Queen® regarding our former locations. Several joint venture partners, former Burger Queen, Druther’s and DQCS alumni, rejoin Robert Gatewood and Druther’s as partners and take control of their locations in Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia.
2012: Harold Kite, the co-founder of Burger Queen, passes away in Florida.
2017: Brian Easley, Robert Gatewood’s son-in-law, comes on board at Druther’s.
2018: Troy Bader becomes CEO of International Dairy Queen, Inc. on January 1st. Druther’s joins the Internet age, creates a website and joins social media on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. Easley begins research on the company, with the aim of publishing a coffee table book on the history of Druther’s. Druther’s co-owns several Dairy Queen® restaurants in Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia. Robert Gatewood, the Gatewood family, and Druther’s also own and manage several other Dairy Queen® properties in the region.
2019: Brian Easley becomes Vice President of Druther’s Systems, Inc. Burger Queen and Druther’s are featured in Sef “Burger Beast” Gonzalez’s book – All About The Burger: A History of America’s Favorite Sandwich.
2020: Druther’s adds Cody Pasco as a Dairy Queen Joint Venture Partner in Virginia. Druther’s Restaurant of Campbellsville, Kentucky celebrates its 50th Anniversary.