Fast food restaurants emerged as a vital part of American auto culture, first as drive-in restaurants and later with drive-thru lanes. The term itself appeared in the dictionary for the first time in 1951, about the time that Apache Boulevard’s first drive-in, an A&W Root Beer Stand, opened at 2057 E. Apache. (Later, it relocated to the 1205 East Apache.) A franchise that originated in California, A&W sold root beer and hamburgers to customers who parked their cars under an awning, receiving curbside service on trays. Drive-ins were becoming increasingly popular in the 1950s, and the number of A&W restaurants grew from 450 in 1950 to more than 2000..
It would not be until the late 1960s that additional fast-food restaurants began to appear along Apache, as a veritable wave of franchises—McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell—opened. The large neon signs and distinctive architecture of these restaurants added distinctive flavor to the roadside architecture of Apache Boulevard, and in the 1960s and 1970s the architecture of fast food chains would have been novel to most visitors, experiencing the mass-produced cuisine for the first time. McDonald’s had Golden Arches; Burger King’s word log was sandwiched between two buns, and Taco Bell had its distinctive bells. Taco Bell also brought its distinctive wood, stucco and brick Mission-style building, with a clay-tile roof, arch-shaped entryways and a large metal bell set in a cavity above the entrance It’s small building had no (or limited indoor seating), a small kitchen, an ordering window, a few tables and chairs on the patio.
Fast food joints served meals to both travelers and locals. These restaurants, including local chains, such as Pete’s Fish & Chips, Filliberto’s, and Mr. Hero, also served food to the construction workers building the freeway and Tempe’s suburban neighborhoods. Well into the 1990s gangs of workers would arrive en masse at fast food restaurants along Apache.