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.
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…