B-Bop's is a seven location local burger chain based out of Des Moines that actually got its start a number of years ago as part of a concept that came out the old Mr. Quick fast food restaurants from the 70's and 80's. It had been quite sometime since I'd had a burger at B-Bop's, and as I was driving along I-80 recently I decided to get off at the NW 86th St. exit and head south to the corner of Meredith Drive and 86th to the B-Bop's located there (see map).
The man behind B-Bop's is Illinois native Bob Johnson who first worked at a Mr. Quick fast food franchise in Princeton, IL beginning in 1971. Working his way up to assistant manager in a short period, Johnson caught the eye of Mr. Quick management back at the company's headquarters in Moline, IL. He was offered a franchise partnership for a Mr. Quick location that was opening just off of Interstate 80 in my hometown of Newton, IA. Johnson moved to Newton after Mr. Quick was built and began his career as a franchise partner with the company. Johnson eventually put in Mr. Quick locations in Muscatine, IA and Fairfield, IA before he split with the Mr. Quick organization in 1983 and renamed his restaurants Sizzlin' Sam's.
Here's the personal part of the story - I lived right behind the Mr. Quick location in Newton for about four years in an apartment building that was separated by an open field that is now a Super 8 motel. I can't tell you how many times I walked across the weed-strewn field to get a burger or a hot ham and cheese sandwich at Mr. Quick. (Photo at right courtesy RoundAmerica.com)
There were many quirky things about Mr. Quick, as well. I knew some people who worked for Bob Johnson and he insisted that the workers address him as "Mr. Johnson". Line cooks and counter workers were also expected to address store managers and assistant managers as "Mister" as a sign of respect. I thought it all was very pretentious on the part of Bob Johnson and used to somewhat make fun of it when I'd talk to others about Mr. Quick. I had some friends who worked there over the years and they all thought it was rather strange and somewhat demeaning to have to refer to ownership and management in such a stiff and formal manner. But, hey, sometimes kids need that sort of structure in their lives, so who am I to judge?
The other thing that I used to get a kick out of was the unique language Mr. Quick workers used when the counter workers would shout back the orders to the line cooks. For example, an order that consisted of a double cheeseburger with extra ketchup and no pickles with an order of fries was yelled out, "Double CB, extra K, hold the p, and one!" The "one" being the fries. Onion rings were "golden o's". Milk was called "Grade A". When the line cooks didn't hear the order clearly, they'd yell out, "Echo! Echo!" I used to laugh when they'd do that. (And I still do, just thinking about it.) It was somewhat overblown pomposity in nature.
I had a friend who was rather smart - and who was somewhat of a smart-ass at times - who used to work at Mr. Quick in high school. I liked to go to Mr. Quick with him and he'd order in the Mr. Quick language to the counter workers. They'd look at him like he was from Mars before they'd catch on that he used to work at Mr. Quick. I had to stifle outright laughter when he did it.
In the late 70's and early 80's, a number of hamburger places - primarily in the Southwest part of the U.S. - began a concept of double drive-thru lanes at their restaurants. Generally, there was no indoor seating like you found at a place like Mr. Quick/Sizzlin' Sam's, and a walk-up window was available for those who either rode bikes, motorcycles or simply walked up to the location. Bob Johnson saw this concept as the future of fast food business and started the first B-Bop's near the corner of NE 14th and Euclid Ave. in Des Moines in 1988. That location is still there today (see map).
Johnson uses the same cooking procedures at B-Bop's that he had in place for years at Mr. Quick/Sizzlin' Sam's. The burgers are cooked on a Neico gas flame automatic broiler that rotated a metal grated treadmill over and under an open flame that cooked both sides of the burger as it passed through. There was a separate rotating metal treadmill at the bottom to toast buns. It was a quick and efficient way to cook burgers. Quite actually, the burgers at Mr. Quick/Sizzlin' Sam's, and subsequently at B-Bop's, were not necessarily of the fast food variety as burgers were made to order and were never cooked before and set in warming bins like you found at places like McDonald's or Burger King. That's what helped make the Mr.Quick/Sizzlin' Sam's/B-Bop's burgers a little more desirable compared to other fast food places.
The B-Bop's concept took off and quickly became one of the favorite drive-thru burger joints in the greater Des Moines area. Johnson ultimately sold off or closed down his three Sizzlin' Sam's locations and focused primarily on the B-Bop's restaurants that he was opening or franchising in the Central Iowa area. Today, you'll find 4 B-Bop's in the greater Des Moines area, a location in Ankeny, a location in Altoona and a B-Bop's in nearby Ames.
All the B-Bop's offer the same menu of burgers, pork tenderloins (called "fritters" at B-Bop's), fried or broiled chicken sandwiches, a fish sandwich, and something known as a Sloppy Joe Slider - a loose-meat burger with a tomato-based sauce mixed in served on a small bun. And interestingly while B-Bop's has French fries and chicken nuggets on their menu, they don't have onion rings. The onion rings at the old Mr. Quick/Sizzlin' Sam's were actually pretty good. But the breadth of the menu items at B-Bop's is significantly smaller than what was offered at Mr. Quick/Sizzlin' Sam's.
Pulling up to the B-Bop's in Urbandale, you have your choice of either going to the right for driver side service, or to the left for passenger side service. That works well when you have a passenger who can order from that side, be able to pay for and receive the food as it comes out through the window. But because most people coming into B-Bop's are alone, the line to the right is usually longer.
The menu board is located at the entrance of the drive-thru lane. A two-way speaker system is located on top of the menu board. I didn't want much that day so I just ordered one of the 1/4 pound cheeseburger deluxe burgers - basically a quarter pound cheeseburger with all the regular condiments along with shredded lettuce, a slice of tomato and mayo added on. It's literally the same thing that I was having at Mr. Quick/Sizzlin' Sam's back in Newton 30 plus years ago.
Because you can't go inside, I don't know if they use the same language to shout out orders at B-Bop's as they used to at Mr. Quick/Sizzlin' Sam's. I'm guessing with the success Bob Johnson has had over the years, the language probably hasn't changed in any of his restaurants.
Because of the long line of cars in front of me, by the time I made it to the window and handed over my money for the burger, it was sitting in a sack on the counter. The window guy who took my ordered handed me the sack. There's a parking lot for a strip mall behind B-Bop's and past experiences dictate that I needed to be stopped and parked if I was going to be eating the deluxe cheeseburger.
One of the signatures of a Bob Johnson-corporate restaurant over the years is that they serve the burgers in a styrofoam container. I'm sure Mr. Johnson has his reasons for this, but B-Bop's may be the only fast-style burger place that still uses styrofoam that I know of. I don't think this styrofoam container is bio-degradable or recyclable, but I may be mistaken. In any event, it didn't have any signs of being recyclable on the outside of the container.
The burger was basically similar to the taste of the old Mr. Quick/Sizzlin' Sam's burgers. It had a pleasant charbroiled taste to the meat and it was loaded with an almost excessive amount of lettuce and mayonnaise. The sesame seed bun was toasted enough that it had a good flavor and it held the burger together very well. However, with each bite globs of shredded lettuce and mayo would fall from the sandwich - some of which didn't hit the styrofoam container if you catch my drift. Thankfully, B-Bop's include at least three napkins in each sack per burger. You'll need them for a deluxe cheeseburger.
I see from time to time that B-Bop's gets local awards for having the best burgers and fries in Central Iowa as voted upon by their customers. Compared to other fast food restaurants, I would rather eat at a B-Bop's than a national chain. It's more "fast food as ordered" than what you find at a typical fast food chain. But I certainly can't say that the burgers at B-Bops are all that great. They're certainly good for what they are and it's worth a stop if you're in a hurry and need a burger fix.