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 Lawrence, Kansas.
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 big hit.
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