Book Review: Flameout – The Rise and Fall of Burger Chef

From time to time, I come across business literature gold in my everyday reading. Such books enrich my entrepreneurial side greatly learning from great minds and / or others’ experience. I love passing on such books to those looking to sharpen their entrepreneurial edge. These are the books I review. May you love (& learn) from them, as I have. image To say that this was an entertaining read would be an understatement. I’d had this book on my Kindle Wish list for almost three months, anticipating it every day.

I read it in a record 3 hours.

Starting out in a obscure fashion, Flameout recounts the rise and fall of the circus business. This paints a background to the life of the founder, Frank Porter Thomas. Starting out as a maker of rides for circuses, fairs & carnivals, Frank’s love of things mechanical leads him to make a frozen custard making machine. This sets off a chain of events that accidentally (for that is what it was really) leads to the birth of Burger Chef.

Frank Sr, together with his son and others soon find Burger Chef being their largest unit of the running businesses. They eventually decide to franchise in part due to inspiration from the yet growing McDonald’s & Dairy Queen. Burger Chef grows impressively as Frank and Co. show a deep understanding of handling a franchise business. Eventually they’re forced to sell to General Foods, marking the start of their decline.

Don Thomas (left) and Frank Thomas (right) on June 21, 1965 with the flame broiler that was the heart of each Burger Chef. Photo by Joe Young, courtesy of The Indianapolis Star.

Don Thomas (left) and Frank Thomas (right) on June 21, 1965 with the flame broiler that was the heart of each Burger Chef. Photo by Joe Young, courtesy of The Indianapolis Star.

In spectacular fashion, General Foods immediately changes the culture of Burger Chef, initiating the decline. Muzzling & bullying of franchisees, glaring staffing mistakes, locating the executive team in another state away from the Burger Chef headquarters, extreme & rushed makeovers that dilute Burger Chef are some of the most comical (& fatal) errors that run down this previously thriving company. Once ahead of the then growing McDonald’s & expected to outgrow it by leaps and bounds, Burger Chef’s downward spiral is almost criminal in its carelessness. The epilogue covers the fate of the original team that started Burger Chef, after it’s demise.

Some of the things that struck me upon reading this book were:

Franchising is NOT for wimps: If you’re looking for an easy business model to make money off of, this is so not the thing for you.

Franchising is human resource intensive: You charge people, to take your brand & make money off it as you manage them. The demand for ingenuity in dealing with human emotions & temperaments is enormous. Your biggest job will be managing people, not things.

Buyer beware: Buying out a thriving business is no guarantee of success. Buy into an industry’s whose dynamics you understand or you will lose every coin.

Building a business takes a lifetime. Running it down is almost effortless. I recommend this book to:

  • Anyone interested in franchising. You will see first hand how the franchise business model works.
  • Anyone interested in learning the pitfalls in poor management of a thriving business.
  • Anyone interested in a “fast paced” business “memoir”.
  • Anyone interested in acquisitions, takeovers, mergers, buyouts (especially in the fast food industry)
  • Anyone interested in the fast food industry.

Find it on Amazon.

Victor Muthoka

Lover of God, children & arts, Apple fanboy, Amazon kindle die hard, closet geek, tech enthusiast, entrepreneur, tree hugger and a voracious reader

You may also like...

  • nice review….have you read E Myth because i would want to hear your review on it….i am yet to finish my copy; priority in August 🙂

    • I haven’t yet read it but i’ll push it to the top of the waiting list, per your request. I do have some preliminary thoughts on it though but i’ll hold them for the review.

  • I’d never heard about the book, but this review is both long and short enough to make me wanna read it!

    Kindle pap.

    • You’ll really relate w/ the lessons in it. Yes, get that Kindle.