Maid-Rite is one of America’s first quick-service, casual dining franchise restaurants, and has been ever since Fred Angell opened the first restaurant in 1926 in Muscatine. Maid-Rite developed one of the first drive-up, walk-up windows for customer convenience.
Angell’s philosophy of doing whatever it takes for customer satisfaction has always been the cornerstone of Maid-Rite, along with food made fresh in their signature loose meat sandwich recipe. Maid-Rites have been a Midwest and Muscatine staple for 90 years. Through the years, Maid-Rite in Muscatine has held several addresses and is now located at 3414 North Port Drive, across from Menard’s.
Over the years, the loose meat sandwiches have developed several different marketing plans, though some of the most famous ones are “the sandwich you eat with a spoon” and “too good to be a patty.” Maid-Rites are typically served with a spoon so patrons can scoop up the meat that falls from the bun.
Legend has it that Angell served a crumbly beef sandwich with a special seasoning blend to a passing delivery man, who proclaimed that it was “made just right.” Angell thereafter dubbed the sandwich “Maid-Rite,” a name that he regarded as conveying a wholesome and pure aura. Angell sold his sandwiches at a walk-up window, an innovation that would eventually develop into the familiar fast food drive-through window. The only other fast food franchise existing at the time was White Castle, which had been founded five years earlier.
As a franchise, the Maid-Rite concept spread largely through word of mouth. In 1927, Angell sold franchise rights to a woman in the town of Newton, about 25 miles east of Des Moines in central Iowa. Clifford Taylor, a resident of Newton, bought rights for Marshalltown, Iowa, in 1928 and opened Taylor’s Maid-Rite Hamburger Shop. Taylor’s contract was signed by a certain Floyd Angell, whose relationship to Fred Angell remains unknown. The contract had no stipulations related to royalties; Taylor simply paid $300 to use the Maid-Rite name and operated his store independently. He baked pies at home, bought pickles from the local vinegar works, and got his hamburger buns from the bakery down the street.
The chain continued to expand using an owner-operator strategy, so that most franchisees owned a single restaurant and had strong local roots. Maid-Rite’s first logo was a friendly-looking maiden who adorned the top of most restaurants opened in the early years of the franchise. The classic Maid-Rite sandwich was made of ground beef cooked in a special steamer and served on a hot bun with a spoon to scoop up the filling that fell out. Angell developed a special seasoning for the filling and began to require that all franchises use it. However, Taylor’s Maid-Rite in Marshalltown never adopted the seasoning; Angell respected the original terms of Taylor’s contract, which was drawn up before the seasoning was created. In addition, some franchises stopped using the seasoning during World War II because of rationing and never switched back, since their communities had gotten used to the unseasoned sandwich. The original sandwich came with only three condiments: mustard, pickles, and onions.
The Muscatine location continues to be decorated in a classic diner style, with a large wooden root beer barrel on display behind the counter. While the root beer barrel has been converted to dispensing draft root beer, the story is that it is one of the original barrels in which employees mixed each day’s batch of root beer prior to opening for the day.