It’s remarkable how people still pine for Cheese Frenchees of days gone by. Recipes for the most cherished of these, the Kings Food Host Cheese Frenchee, a battered, deep fried cheese sandwich with a crunchy cornflake exterior, are all over the internet. It may have been modeled on the somewhat similar Croque Monsieur sandwich of France, explaining the name Frenchee.
Frenchees, were the creation of King’s Food Host, a fast food chain catering to families and college students in the 1960s and 1970s. Most of the chain’s units were located in the middle of the country, with headquarters in Lincoln, Nebraska, where there were once nine units. The first – King’s Drive-In – was started by James King and Larry Price in 1955, on North Cotner in Lincoln. I wonder if the first one had telephones at each table that patrons used to send their orders to the kitchen?
Jim King soon dropped out of the partnership but Larry Price stayed with it until 1972 when he gave up control of the company for around $3 million. It had reached its peak size then, with about 100 company-owned stores and 35 franchised units. Reportedly it had units in Winnipeg, Canada, and 20 states, but I’ve only been able to identify 18: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
In King’s younger days around 1966 when it had only
35 locations in 10 states, it focused on building near
universities. King’s were handy for students at state
universities in Nebraska (Lincoln), Iowa (Ames),
Wisconsin (Madison), and Colorado (Boulder), with new
units under construction in Norman, Oklahoma, and
Larry Price, who graduated from Nebraska Wesleyan
University, had been a football assistant there and
served on the university’s board of trustees. His
first food service foray was as a teenager in 1934
when he ran a hamburger stand at the 1934 Nebraska
State Fair. He was very likely the motive force behind
the chain’s advertised principles.
The Frenchees may have disappeared from the chain at
some point or maybe simply dropped out of favor. They
were heavily promoted as part of a nostalgia campaign
shortly after King’s went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy
protection in 1974. Apart from Cheese Frenchees,
King’s offered Ham & Cheese Frenchees, Tuna
Frenchees, Hot Dog Frenchees, and Pizza Frenchees.
Never having seen an actual Frenchee myself, I can’t
picture what the last two varieties looked like.
Apparently the Pizza Frenchie, which “joined the
Frenchee family” in the dark days of 1974, was not a
The chain’s troubles started just after it went
public in 1969 and began a rapid expansion drive. In
debt for millions, it could not work out a
satisfactory deal with creditors and never emerged
from bankruptcy. Stock shares which sold for $14 each
in 1969 dropped to a low of 50 cents after bankruptcy
was declared. In 1978 a couple of business men from
Minnesota and Wisconsin bought the remaining King’s
outlets, which by then numbered only 17.