When it was built in 1954, the fast food restaurant at the corner of Ida and Monterey streets In San Luis Obispo was at the intersection of car culture, mid-century modern architecture and culinary convenience.
Much as changed since then.
Ida Street was renamed when California Boulevard was extended. Hamburger joints have mostly changed from independent spots to chains, while architecture has gotten more bland.
Before it was home to Splash Cafe, the building at 1491 Monterey St. housed Ed’s Take Out — the first SLO restaurant purpose-built with takeout food in mind.
Construction started on the building on April 2, 1954, Telegram-Tribune city editor John Sarber wrote at the time.
Ed’s Take Out, launched at a time when selling hamburgers to go was considered unique, was owned by Ed and Robert Sears and Frank Libbin.
Ed Sears already ran a similar takeout joint in Santa Maria.
His son-in-law Don Krall ran the San Luis Obispo business.
Krall eventually became the owner of Ed’s Take Out before becoming the longtime owner of beloved San Luis Obispo spot Frank’s Famous Hot Dogs.
Ed’s Take Out was designed for the automotive era. While there wasn’t a drive-thru lane, there was plenty of parking to drop in and take a meal home.
The building had open beams holding up a slab roof and awning.
When Ed’s Take Out opened June 17, 1954, would-be diners lined up four to six people deep under the shade of the awning.
The neon sign featured a tiny man in a chef hat holding a huge burger and the type was simple and to the point:
Much of San Luis Obispo’s burger joint history is in this article by Linnea Waltz, which ran in the Telegram-Tribune on April 15, 1982 though it omits local fast food institution Scrubby and Lloyd’s.
City’s first food window thrives
San Luis Obispo was amazed in 1953, then amused when Ed Sears built a modernistic structure at the corner of Monterey and Johnson and began dispensing hamburgers and accompanying refreshments at the city’s first fast-food, through-the-window outlet.
“Nobody will buy food that way in this town,” was heard frequently.
A major remodeling, two owners and 29 years later, Ed’s Take-Out still is a thriving business.
Mel Hahn Jr., the current owner, grew up in San Luis Obispo. He watched the fast food outlets increase and the big chains set up business in the city.
Since his father owned the adjacent motel, he bought his hamburgers at Ed’s, and while a high school student he worked there part time.
“But I went to work at SAFECO — then Security Title Insurance — right out of high school so when Ed Sears thought about selling his restaurant and I bought it, I entered the restaurant business nearly cold turkey,” he said. “I bought Ed’s in February 1969.”
Hahn said Sears built his San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria outlets at the same time. Sears ran the Santa Maria restaurant and left the San Luis Obispo outlet for his brother-in-law, Don Krall, to run.
“The Sears family is an old-line San Luis Obispo name,” Hahn said. “Ed’s father had Sears Market at Marsh and Broad streets.”
Hahn said Foster’s Old Fashioned Freeze was the second fast-food restaurant to open in San Luis Obispo, then A&W — now the Burger Factory — in the early 1960s.
“McDonald’s opened about 1970 and the Arctic Circle, in the 1970s,” he reminisced. “Speedy Burger, which opened after was called Jolly Cone at first. There were others sprinkled in, such as the Dairy Queen, which closed a few years ago, and Mustang Drive-Inn, an independent.”
He said Ed’s attracts a good cross section of customers, namely the Cal Poly trade, high school students and lots of business people in the area.
How does Hahn compete with the majors, such as McDonalds?
“It’s tough,” he said. “You can’t be the cheapest, so you try to put out a higher class product than the franchise outfits and hope the people will pay for it.
“If I were to do it over in this day and age, I’d think seriously about a franchise. This is because of the advertising done by the big chains. Through advertising, they have people programmed as they grow up so that by the time they’re eating hamburgers they know where they want to go.”
Hahn competes successfully as an independent by “giving as good a service as fast-food majors and by being able to put out a good product the way the customer want it, rather than an assembly-line burger.”
He said he’s added new items to the menu, “but the basic backbone of the business is the big hamburger and the regular hamburger, which have not changed since the day Ed’s opened.”
“Our sauce is the same as Ed Sears’,” Hahn said. “We call it Ed’s Secret Sauce and it has remained the same for 29 years.”
Outdoor window service disappeared at Ed’s Takeout in 1978 when Hahn remodeled and enlarged the building, adding about 1,000 square feet to allow indoor seating for 50 patrons.
“The trend is this way,” he said. “Customers come inside the building to order where it’s heated and air conditioned. It’s the way to go today since the franchises did this, and I find it has helped the business.”
Ed’s was a one-Hahn business, but recently another generation of Hahns was initiated into the fast-food world when the Hahns’ son, 16-year-old Steven, took up chef duties part time at the restaurant.
However, Stacy Hahn, 13, as yet remains uninitiated, her father said.
This story was originally published October 7, 2023, 5:00 AM.