Lost Jacksonville: Milligan's Beefy Burgers

August 21, 2012 22 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville looks back at a long lost Jacksonville institution: Milligan's Beefy Burgers

Some trace the modern history of fast food in America to July 7, 1912, with the opening of a fast food restaurant called the Automat in New York. Some historians and secondary school textbooks concur that A&W, which opened in 1919 and began franchising in 1921, was the first fast food restaurant. Others associate the term with the McDonald brothers, Richard and Maurice, who opened a barbecue drive-in in 1940 in San Bernardino, California.

After discovering that most of their profits came from hamburgers, the McDonald brothers closed their restaurant for three months and reopened it in 1948 as a walk-up stand offering a simple menu of hamburgers, french fries, shakes, coffee, and Coca-Cola, served in disposable paper wrapping. As a result, they could produce hamburgers and fries constantly, without waiting for customer orders, and could serve them immediately; hamburgers cost 15 cents, about half the price at a typical diner. Their streamlined production method, which they named the "Speedee Service System" was influenced by the production line innovations of Henry Ford.

Nevertheless, for burgers in Jacksonville, long before artery clogging fast food chains took over Blanding, Atlantic and Beach Boulevards, it was Milligan's Beefy Burgers. Many long time Jaxsons viewed Milligan's as our own home grown version of "Krystal" and "White Castle." Founded October 24, 1932, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Krystal was known as the first hamburger chain in the South.

The story of Florida's first fast food drive through hamburger chain was founded by Elmer B. and Dorothy Hair Milligan in Starke, FL in 1942.  During their first year of business, Milligan's served over 450,000 beefy burgers.

Milligan's Hamburger Hut at 207 West Forsyth Street in 1949.  This site is now the location of downtown's FedEx Office and BB&T parking garage.

While California's In-N-Out Burger was in the process of beginning drive-through service utilizing call-box technology in 1948, Elmer Milligan was bringing his beefy burgers to Duval County.  By 1950, he was operating two restaurants in town; Milligan's Grill at 18 East 8th Street in Springfield and Milligan's Hamburger Hut at 207 West Forsyth Street in downtown. Firmly established in Jacksonville, the Milligans settled into a Lake Shore residence at 1704 Lake Shore Boulevard with their children, Richard, John, Virginia, Elizabeth and JoAnn.

Inspired by the success of the original McDonald's restaurant, Jacksonville residents Keith Kramer and Matthew Burns started Insta-Burger King. By the time Insta-Burger King started churning out whoppers in 1954, Milligan's had already expanded with multiple Jacksonville locations serving their mouth watering cuisine. A sign of the times, Milligan's new locations took them into rapidly growing suburbs of Jacksonville's Westside.  There, Elmer Milligan opened restaurants at 2441 West Beaver Street and 1020 Cassat Avenue, in addition to three operating in downtown and Springfield.  By 1964, Milligan's Beefy Burgers had expanded to 16 location serving over five million burgers annually. At the time, a sackful (aka a dozen) of beefy burgers could be had for $1.00. At the chain's height, beefy burger restaurants were located in Jacksonville, Green Cove Springs, Fernandina Beach, Orlando and St. Petersburg.

Milligan's Inc. head offices were located in downtown Jacksonville at 331 West Ashley Street. In Jacksonville, there were a total of ten beefy burger locations by 1967.  

- 27 East 8th Street

- 2441 West Beaver Street

- 4974 Blanding Boulevard

- 700 North Main Street

- 5829 Norwood Avenue

- 1605 University Boulevard

- 1020 Cassat Avenue

- 3562 Broadway Avenue

- 9303 Lem Turner Road

- 1965 South Lane Avenue

The former Milligan's Beefy Burgers restaurant, which opened in 1972, at 4530 Brentwood Avenue still stands.  In an ironic twist of fate, this building will become the home of Warren Motors.  To make room for the urban core's newest McDonald's, Warren Motors is in the process of relocating from their downtown site to another site that once turned out beefy burgers of its own.

On July 16, 1971, Elmer Milligan passed at the age of 60. Elmer's son, Richard L. Milligan, then assumed the role of the president of Milligans, Inc. at the age of 35.  Richard had attended Robert E. Lee High School and graduated from Santa Fe College in Gainesville, before serving in the U.S Army from 1955 through 1957. As a charter member of the West Jacksonville Jaycees and past president, he held the 'Key Man' award in 1964, while serving as the vice president of Milligans. In 1974, he served as the president of the Jacksonville Restaurant Association.  

However, 1974 would be the last year beefy burgers would be available to Jaxons.  By the end of the year, Florida's first fast food chain had succumbed to heavy competition from rapidly growing McDonald's and Burger King. Since then, Jacksonville's Burger King has flourished, relocated its headquarters to Miami and grown to become the world's second largest hamburger chain, and the third largest fast food company in the industry. With well over 12,000 restaurants in 73 countries around the world that serve an average of 11 million hungry guests every day, Burger King is second only to McDonald's in the hamburger business.

Today, it's pretty difficult to find information regarding the history of Milligan's Beefy Burgers. Like so many Jacksonville stories and businesses, the memory of Milligan's has faded away as time has moved on.  

Article by Ennis Davis. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com