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 III…
In mid-1975, Willesee, a current affairs program on Channel 7, received a tip-off from Bankstown Council garbagemen that a hamburger restaurant at Bankstown had, on a regular basis, some very odd items in its dumpsters out the back. When reporters from the program went down to the Bankstown Hartee’s to investigate, they found that the bins outside were full of dog food cans. Further investigation revealed that the dog food was in fact being sliced into patties and used on the burgers at this particular location:
The devastating report went to air, cripping the Hartee’s brand in the public eye. Despite there being no evidence that such a practice went on in other Hartee’s locations, Kelloggs quickly and quietly abandoned its fast food venture. No official comment was given other than a generic ‘the venture was no longer profitable’ statement.
Almost overnight, all Hartee’s locations were closed and sold. Today, almost nothing remains of the Hartee’s legacy except the stores documented in this series. The Bankstown location subsequently became a Chinese restaurant and a variety of bottle shops. Other locations, such as Hartee’s Liverpool, Manly Vale and Kogarah, have since been demolished.
As previously mentioned, Kelloggs planned to open more than 100 locations around the country, but only 17 were ever opened. It wasn’t until Red Rooster, and even more successfully, Oporto, that an Australian-owned fast food brand managed to establish itself.
Had the scandal not occurred, Hartee’s may have emerged as the primary fast food outlet in Australia today instead of fading into obscurity, but thanks to the actions of some goofballs on minimum wage, it’s a world we’ll never know.
HEARTY UPDATE: There’s more. Always can do one more.