Area's first McDonald's celebrates 50 years with lower prices

Our first McDonald's celebrates 50 years.

By Jessica Vander Velde, Times Staff Writer
Published March 9, 2008

TAMPA - Cars backed up in front of the McDonald's up to 40 deep in each direction. Police directed traffic, and public works employees brought in orange traffic cones to separate through lanes from ones that led to the restaurant's parking lot.

The attraction: burgers and fries at 50-year-old prices.

"I wanted to see the traffic," said Jim McKechney, of St. Petersburg, who picked up a few cheeseburgers while snapping photos of the crowd.

Customers ate more than 17,000 burgers in four hours at the McDonald's at 3515 S Dale Mabry Highway. Employees also sold fries and drinks at the prices they went for in 1958, when the bay area's first golden arches opened at that location.

Hamburgers, which usually go for 69 cents, were 15 cents - about 10 cents less than the cost of producing them now, company spokesman Bob Conigliaro said. So today's burgers cost them about 25 cents to produce.

If today's price sounds high, consider this: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with inflation, a burger that went for 15 cents in 1958 should cost about $1.10 today.

The region's first location looks different from the building that opened in 1958. It's been bulldozed twice for renovation, said Chuck Peterson Sr., the president of the Caspers Co., which owns 51 McDonald's locations in the bay area, including the first one.

The only thing that's the same about the first one are the palm trees that the first owner - Fritz Casper - planted outside, he said.

Tampa resident Belinda Tilton, 58, remembers walking up to the giant golden arches in the '50s and ordering burgers from the window outside. Back then, there wasn't a drive-through or dining area.

Many others never visited the restaurant in the '50s, but they went Saturday for the low prices and entertainment.

Jason and Renee Stearns, along with their three children, were on a mission to get 20-cent cheeseburgers. The restaurant was farther from their home and more crowded than they expected, Jason Stearns said, but they'd do it again. Their sons love McDonald's.

"They're born and raised on chicken nuggets," he said.

Then again, McDonald's chicken nuggets didn't come around until more than 20 years after this McDonald's opened.

Times news researcher Angie Holan contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.