Los Angeles restaurants recreate the architecture of former fast food buildings

In May, business owner Daniel Day took over the long-running Wienerschniztel at 7434 Garvey Avenue in Rosemead and turned it into his third location in Bánh Mì Mỹ Tho; He runs two other stores in Rosemead and Alhambra. “It worked for us,” Day says. He points out that although the space is small, only 432 square feet, it was the perfect size for a low-level sandwich operation with adequate storage and refrigeration. In addition, it was sold to him at a good price.

Not having to make many structural changes to the building—just a coat of fresh white paint on top of the ketchup—and stained mustard and install the store’s logo that appears on a criss-cross baguette—Day was able to open his restaurant within a month of signing the lease.

Architect Robert McKay designed Wienerschniztel’s Alpine-style buildings.
Wiener Schnitzel

Some of the architectural designs of the fast food giants are memorable, like the towering bucket with the face of Colonel Sanders at Kentucky Fried Chicken or the large cube that hovers over Jack in the Box. It is this highly visible appearance that makes it so noticeable when new restaurateurs take over fast food joints and transform them into different restaurants while keeping the famous structures intact. Although restaurateurs have to think about how to remodel these modular buildings into something of their own, there are many perks to opening in a fast food restaurant enclosure: a compact car, cheaper rental costs, prime street-facing locations, parking and plenty more.

Wienerschniztel’s signature A-frame structure became a Southern California staple when the design debuted at its third Compton location more than 60 years ago. Architect Robert Mackay, who was also the brains behind ranch-style Taco Bell stores, designed the Alpine-style buildings for the hot dog chain. Outside the world of restaurants, the sloping roof design element grew in popularity between the 1950s and 1970s, as it was a relatively inexpensive and quick design for people building vacation homes with increased disposable income at the time. Wienerschniztel phased out the A-frame design in the mid-1970s as it became popular.

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Just like Wienerschnitzel, other fast food restaurants have changed their architecture over the years to remain relevant—and the remains of what remains are being reused by new business owners. Since the inception of KFC in the 1950s, most fried chicken chain sites have had a similar appearance: a sloping roof with a large bucket leaning against a metal pole as a sign. But in 1989, Kentucky Fried Chicken franchisee Jack Wilkie commissioned architect Jeffrey Daniels (one of Frank Gehry’s sponsors) to update the appearance of his location on Western and Oakwood Streets in East Hollywood. The result was a two-story Deconstructivist design that played with Googie’s architecture. Los Angeles Times She stated that it was “the first architecturally avant-garde Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in the United States, and the famous franchisor’s first break with its strict formal tradition.”

The grand opening of Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1965.

The grand opening of Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1965.
Steve Young, Valley Times Collection/Los Angeles Public Library

The popularity of Googie’s futuristic architecture from 1945 to the early 1970s also played a role in the introduction of Jack in the Box Cube banners. San Diego architect and artist Russell Forster, who designed the chain’s locations in the 1950s, placed the geometric box on a tall metal pole as a way to lure motorists to Jack in a Box car. Another nostalgic favorite, Pioneer Chicken first opened at Echo Park in 1961 with its unmissable sign showing the Pioneer Pet mascot carrying a whole chicken while riding on a chuck carriage. The fried chicken chain used to have 270 locations but has dwindled to just two. Many old outposts have been converted into Popeyes; In essence, one chicken chain was taking over the other.

While times and tastes may change, these eye-catching fast food structures have proven to have staying power – sometimes superseded by many companies over the years. From former Wienerschnitzels to KFC and Jack in the Box locations, here’s how local business owners are transforming these old buildings into their own unique thing.


626 BBQ Hawaiian and Boba

626 Hawaiian BBQ & Grill  Bubba & nbsp;  in Baldwin Park.

626 Hawaiian and Bubba BBQ in Baldwin Park.
Wonho Frank Lee

Only minor physical changes were made to this former Wienerschnitzel site, namely a blue canopy and a towering sign emblazoned with the company’s name. The menu offers tag promise with kalua pork, spam musubi, and boba drinks. Before 626 Hawaiian BBQ & Boba opened in 2014, the restaurant was home to at least three Mexican restaurants. 4386 Maine Avenue, Baldwin Park, CA 91706.

Tierra Mia coffee

Tierra Mia coffee in Pico Riviera.

Tierra Mia coffee in Pico Riviera.
Matthew Kang

The specialty Tierra Mia Coffee has nearly 20 locations across California, but the Pico Rivera outlet may be the most memorable. The KFC takeover is now closed, the outdoor bucket is designed to look like a coffee mug plastered with the Tierra Mia logo. 9220 Slauson Avenue, Pico Rivera, CA 90660.

brazilian house

Brazilian Billboard House in Torrance.

Brazilian Billboard House in Torrance.
Matthew Kang

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Brazilian Billboard House in Torrance.

In a Brazilian Plate House, a former Wienerschnitzel veneer is painted a vibrant green and white. Since it opened in 2016, hot dogs have been replaced by more gourmet food, from grilled pecans and grilled shrimp. 4509 Torrance Street, Torrance, CA 90503.

king of china

King of China in Anaheim.

King of China in Anaheim.
Farley Elliot

Shawn Tang acquired Pioneer Chicken in 1991 for its prime location and transformed it into a fast food restaurant serving chow mein and fried rice with broccoli, beef, and orange chicken. At that time, city building laws forbade Tang to change the restaurant’s original sign, so he invented and painted it yellow with the word “China King” engraved in red font. “People mostly think it’s a map of China, but it’s really funny because it’s not,” Tang says. “I got that a little bit.” Stare hard enough at the current signs and you can still tell what the former Pioneer chicken cart looked like. 3456 W. Lincoln Avenue, Anaheim, CA 92801.

The famous original hamburger from Tommy’s World

Authentic hamburger from the world famous Tommy Eagle Rock.

Authentic hamburger from the world famous Tommy Eagle Rock.
Wonho Frank Lee

The chili is still served at this former Wienerschnitzel location in Eagle Rock, but is now awash with burgers, hot dogs, and tamales under the name of a different fast food chain: Original Tommy’s World Famous Hamburgers. The brand, which has been in business for more than 75 years, still uses the distinctive red-and-white drive-through A-frame now. This isn’t the only Wienerschnitzel-turned-Tommy’s – another located in Burbank. As with Pioneer Chicken, this is another example of an iconic restaurant taking over the position of another iconic restaurant. 1717 Colorado Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90041.

Hamburger Boy No. 5 and Don Carlos No. 6

Boy's Hamburgers #5 and Don Carlos #6 in Anaheim.

Boy’s Hamburgers #5 and Don Carlos #6 in Anaheim.
Farley Elliot

On West Lincoln Avenue in Anaheim, the former Pioneer Chicken sign still has the same shape but has been replaced by the names of two restaurants. The top half reads “Boy’s Hamburgers #5” with the logo of a boy in a baseball hat holding a burger, while the bottom half says “Don Carlos #6” with a picture of a cactus and the words “Authentic Mexican Food.” 2601 W Lincoln Avenue, Anaheim, CA 92801.

Father Alberto Mexican Food

Father Alberto of Mexican Food in Covina.

Father Alberto’s Mexican Food in Covina.
Matthew Kang

Father Alberto of Mexican Food in Covina.

When father Alberto Mexican Food Jack replaced the box’s former jack in the 2000s, the owners redesigned the box’s towering body signage with their own branding showing the restaurant’s name written in cursive font with a sombrero above the letter A. Serving diners 24 hours a day in Today, it continues to use the fast food chain by driving it. 905 N. Azusa Avenue #2643, Covina, CA 91722.

Mexicali Taco & Co.

Mexican Taco &  a company.  In St. Gabriel.

Mexicali Taco & Co. in San Gabriel.
Wonho Frank Lee

Chef Esdras Ochoa and partner Paul Yoo have acquired the former Wienerschnitznel in San Gabriel to open a follow-up to their Chinatown Mexicali Taco & Co. In 2020. “When I saw this site, it appealed to me because it was unique a space that was stand-alone, not in a mall, and had 14 parking spaces,” Yu said.

Before Mexicali moved, the place was painted orange and Jianping Chinese served. Yoo and Ochoa painted the A-frame in fiery red, referring to the color of their original location. Instead of corn dogs, this spot is now home to Ochoa-style Northern Baja dishes including vampiro quesadillas and Cantonese-style pastry. Note: This is the website of Mexicali Taco & Co. Now closed but the Chinatown restaurant is still open. 1811 S. San Gabriel Boulevard, San Gabriel, CA 91776.

1811 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel, CA 91176