Sometimes it’s hard to keep a good burger down. For those who haven’t followed the long, sad story of the Hartee’s hamburger franchise, here’s a quick recap.
With the advent of American fast food franchises in Australia in the late 60s and early 70s, Kelloggs teamed with the US-based Hardees burger chain to start Hartee’s, the first Australian fast food restaurant (despite its very red white and blue beginnings).
It was a near-instant success. Whether it was down to underlying xenophobia towards overseas brand names, smart management or just plain delicious burgers, by 1973 Hartee’s was king of the fast food hill in Australia.
Complacency became the daily special from then on, with a series of extravagant HQ upgrades and new outlets sprouting like weeds all over Sydney. Despite this, the chain was beginning to haemorrhage cash at a pretty severe rate, and McDonald’s was aggressively making major headway into the Australian scene. Something had to give.
And give it did, here at the Bankstown Hartee’s in 1975, when a current affairs program, acting on a tip-off, exposed the outlet as having served dog food in burgers. Overnight, Hartee’s packed up and disappeared, leaving only husks behind, and that’s where the story seems to end.
Except thanks to reader Phil, there’s a final piece of the puzzle to be put in place. I’d previously written that only the four former Hartee’s above still existed in any form around Sydney… Well, we all make mistakes. Just ask Bankstown Hartee’s.
Behold, the Manly Vale Hartee’s still stands. It’s currently Gilmour’s Comfort Shoes, but it pretty obviously fits in with the Hartee design.
In fact, this may be the most well-preserved Hartee’s still in existence. The Gilmour’s sign appears to be stuck on over the red roof, so it’s possible the Hartee’s logo remains underneath.
The original lights are still in place, designed to illuminate the Hartee’s name. Also still in place, as per Phil’s advice…
The original outdoor seating area! Now it’s presumably the shoe shop manager’s car park (c’mon, look at the prestige offered by that strange piece of land). Inside are just shoes, but really, they’ve served worse and called it burgers.
It’s not really a happy ending, or an ending at all, but it is (I’m guessing) the final footnote on what by now must be the most definitive account of the Hartee’s affair out there. There are still many mysteries surrounding the story (truly, more questions are raised than answered), but maybe one day one of those faceless, guilt-ridden Hartee’s executives will come out of hiding and reveal more. Hell, I’d even settle for the guy who served the dog food. As ever, if you know more, please let Past/Lives know. And RIP Hartee’s – we hartlee knew ye.
In the meantime, let’s take a minute to remember those four powerful words that watered more mouths than Mount Franklin, that were a city’s guilty pleasure in a time before Big Macs and Whoppers…in a time when a nation could feed itself.
Gerry Harvey and his Harvey Norman retail empire may still be prominent and sometimes newsworthy today, but spare a thought for Norman Ross. In 1961 Harvey and his business partner Ian Norman opened their first electrical store here at Arncliffe, calling it Harvey Norman Discounts. After its success, the two decided to start a chain but couldn’t agree on a name, so they picked the name of the store’s manager, and in 1962 the first Norman Ross store opened. In 1965, this Arncliffe store’s name was changed to Norman Ross. This site saw its share of controversy in 1978, when the ever-provocative Harvey broke the hymen of Australian retail innocence and defied a NSW Government ban on after hours trading. The store remained open long after the midday closing time required by law. Shoppers poured in to the five-level store, drawn like moths to the flame of novelty and controversy, as if they couldn’t have bought that toaster a few hours earlier. Harvey risked jail time and heavy fines with the move, but it seemed to pay off.
Norman Ross was doing pretty well by 1982, when both the Coles Group and Alan Bond, the man who was allergic to money, decided they wanted a piece of the action. Coles won out after a fierce bidding war, but Bond bought the chain from Coles just three weeks later. Both Harvey and Norman were instantly sacked, but then immediately started the Harvey Norman discount chain, which flourished while Norman Ross struggled in its Bondage. Bond being Bond, the writing was on the wall for Norman Ross as soon as he took over, and it went into liquidation in 1992. In what could be seen as a patronising move, Harvey has resurrected the Norman Ross name for his stores in New Zealand. Let’s take a moment to process that – he didn’t want to attach his own name to anything over there, and would rather use the soiled, besmirched name of a failed Australian retail operation from two decades ago to sell fridges and Dells. You’d think Bond was still in charge.
But while Gerry Harvey whines to anyone who’ll listen about the unfairness of online trading, the store that he built his empire on still sits on the Princes Highway, and it’s here that for Norman Ross, the writing is still on the wall. After the chain was wound up, the store became a Hardly Normal outlet for a time, but for the last few years it’s housed a variety of fly-by-night furniture retailers. I don’t mean to cast aspersions on Jacobs Furniture, but I don’t think even Alan Bond’ll be taking out his chequebook for this one anytime soon. Even at 50% off.
Continued from Part II…
1974 saw further expansion by Hartee’s that almost bordered on arrogance. The original Earlwood store was deemed too small to fit into Hartee’s plan for national dominance, and was closed. The new head office at Mascot suddenly wasn’t good enough either, and a new head office was established at Botany. New outlets were still being opened in the suburbs, like this one at Punchbowl in 1975:
Until recently a Bank of Queensland branch, this location has changed hands more than a few times since Hartee’s left. This was the final Hartee’s store to open, and strangely, it isn’t a drive-thru like all other new stores had been. Maybe Hartee’s knew something we didn’t? Press reports at the time had suggested that Hartee’s had incurred an operating loss of $918,000 AUD in 1973, and were continuing to lose money as time went on. Perhaps they were starting to employ cost cutting measures…
Continued from Part I…
In 1971, McDonald’s opened their first Australian restaurant at Yagoona in Sydney’s southwest. Hartee’s, as Sydney’s resident hamburger chain, returned fire by opening no less than four locations in 1972, eclipsing McDonald’s store count. Of those four, Liverpool, Canterbury, Manly Vale and Kogarah, only the Canterbury store still exists in any form:
The building still features the drive-thru lane and original roof, but apart from that nothing remains of Hartee’s. Seeing as McDonald’s didn’t open a drive-thru location until 1978, at Warrawong, this suggests that Hartee’s were Australian pioneers of the drive-thru service style. This domination of Sydney’s hamburger market continued into 1973, with locations opening at Moore Park Showground and Riverwood, while business was so good that the head office was moved from Earlwood to Mascot. By the end of 1973, Hartee’s sat comfortably at the top of Sydney’s fast food chain…
Australia’s experiences with American-style fast food started during the Second World War. Visiting American GIs helped the relatively young nation get a taste for hamburgers with cheese and fried chicken, while the influx of immigrants to the country introduced exotic food such as the souvlaki, pizza and kebabs. The major fast food franchises of today had all originated in the USA in the 1940s and 50s, and while Australia had been content thus far to survive on meat pies, milk bars and Chinese restaurants for take away treats, the 1960s ushered in a new wave. The fast food empires saw Australia as prime territory. Kentucky Fried Chicken was first to move in, establishing its first Australian store at Guildford in Sydney’s west in 1968. Pizza Hut opened its first store in Belfield in April, 1970. In that same year, amid the American invasion, the first major Australian-owned fast food franchise opened its store in Earlwood, NSW.
Seizing on the absence of hamburger franchises thus far in Australia (McDonalds would open their first location in 1971), Kellogg Food Products Pty. Ltd. had made an agreement with the American Hardee’s chain of hamburger restaurants to create ‘Hartee’s’, an American-style burgers-‘n-fries restaurant franchise. The first Hartee’s opened here, on the corner of Homer Street and Joy Ave in Earlwood, with the take-away shop below and the head office above. Unlike many other Australian attempts to emulate the American fast food experience, Hartee’s was a success – TV and radio carried the jingle “Hurry on down to Hartee’s, where the burgers are barbecued!”. Kelloggs planned for over 100 Hartee’s locations in Australia and New Zealand, but it didn’t quite work out that way…