Where the King Dare Not Go
The map above is a screen shot from Google Maps of Mattoon, Illinois. It clearly shows that there’s a Burger King just a few blocks east of the Mattoon Amtrak station, and it shouldn’t be surprising that there’s a BK there — after all, Mattoon has roughly 20,000 people, a McDonald’s, a Pizza Hut, a Wendy’s, a Taco Bell, and even a Hardee’s.
But if you ask Burger King’s official website if there’s a Burger King there, they’ll say, no, no such luck.
And just to put any doubt out of your mind, Google’s data isn’t out of date. The Mattoon Burger King is still there, as of this writing, and if you need to confirm it, you can call them at (217) 234-8122 and ask them if they’re still at 1508 Charleston Avenue in Mattoon, Illinois. They’ll probably say yes and then hang up on you in disgust, so it’s for the best if you just take my word for it.
What’s going on here? The simple answer is that the Burger King in Mattoon isn’t a Burger King-brand Burger King. It’s this:
The restaurant above was founded by a couple named Gene and Betty Hoots in 1952 as an ice cream shop named “Frigid Queen.” (If that’s reminiscent of “Dairy Queen,” that’s probably not a coincidence. DQ opened in 1940 in Joliet, Illinios, only 160 miles north of Mattoon, and had nearly 1,500 franchises by 1950. The Hoots almost certainly knew about Dairy Queen when they opened Frigid Queen.) By 1957, the couple increased the eatery’s menu offerings and realized that a name focused on ice cream needed changing. They stayed regal, though, opting for “Burger King,” and registered for a trademark over the name with the Illinois authorities.
Burger King — the one you typically think of when you think of “Burger King” — was founded in 1954 in Florida, and didn’t have any franchises in Illinois before 1959. When they tried to enter Illinois in 1961, the Hoots’ lawyer sent BK a letter (as lawyers are wont to do) saying that they couldn’t do that. As one report recounted, “letters went back and forth” for the next five years or so, and finally, the Hootses sued, claiming that the Florida-based Burger King was violating their state trademark.
The court case made it to the federal appeals court in the area and was ruled on in November of 1968. The issue? Burger King of Florida had a federal trademark over the name “Burger King” while the Hootses had an Illinois (state-level) trademark over the same term. The court decided that the federal trademark trumped the state one, and therefore, the Hootses couldn’t prevent Burger King from entering the state. However, the Florida burger invasion could not take up the whole state. The court also ruled that, for a 20 mile radius around Mattoon, the Hootses actual use of the trademark was not to be interfered with, and Burger King was therefore barred from opening any franchises within that region.
That ruling still holds true today. Burger King — the one with the national notoriety — isn’t in Mattoon, and likely won’t be any time soon.
From the Archives: The Toxic Lady: The bonus fact is about Mattoon.
Related: A Burger King bobblehead doll — the one you know, not the Mattoon one.