For over half a century, Medford has been ground zero for new chain restaurants
Orders are taken at In-N-Out Burger in Medford. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]
Cars line up at Chick-fil-A in Medford, where lines seem to be a common occurrence. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]
A rendering of the Panera Bread store being built in Medford. [Submitted drawing]
Panera Bread is building a store at the corner of Garfield Street and Highway 99 in Medford. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
In April of last year, a prankster duped hundreds of Southern Oregonians with a misspelled name and a single Facebook post.
“Hope you’re hungry,” said an April 4, 2021, post using a corporate green-and-beige color scheme on a page titled “Panara Bread Medford.” It listed an opening date of May 21, 2021.
That opening date was far too good to be true — it was months before crews had even broken ground on the new Panera Bakery Cafe coming to the corner of Highway 99 and Garfield Street. Wishful thinking, however, couldn’t stop the hoax post from being shared by locals 266 times.
According to KOGAP Enterprises CEO Brent Hackwell, construction on the building is expected to be completed by the end of 2022.
The fast-casual bakery cafe is the latest dalliance in local diners’ love affair with chain restaurants, but it’s hardly Southern Oregon’s first love.
Over the past decade, grand openings for Oregon’s first In-N-Out Burger location and Medford’s first Chick-fil-A have drawn blockbuster crowds eager for the familiar tastes they’d sampled in other metropolitan areas.
On Sept. 15, 2015, the excitement was palpable at 1970 Crater Lake Highway in Medford. CBS News crews were on deck to watch as fans of In-N-Out’s famed Double Double camped overnight for the ribbon-cutting.
Others braved drive thru-lines in excess of three hours on opening day, according to Mail Tribune reports at the time.
From hamburgers to sandwiches to everything in between, Medford has long been the place for Southern Oregonians to get their first local taste of some of the country’s most popular restaurants, but that wasn’t always the case.
Six decades ago, those looking for a hamburger might have considered the A&W at 333 N. Riverside Ave., but there were plenty of other locally owned drive-ins up and down the road, According to Medford’s June 1962 Bell Telephone book.
Jack’s Hamburgers at 911 N. Riverside Ave., was one hamburger option that also gave diners choices of “pizza pie to go,” fried chicken or “Mexican tacos and burritos.”
Cubby’s Drive-in, at 1275 S. Riverside Ave., was another option for hamburgers, as well as “Broasted” chicken “prepared in scientific new equipment.”
By the latter half of the decade, Medford’s fast-food choices started ramping up. A listing for Kentucky Fried Chicken, at 603 S. Riverside Ave., first appeared in 1967, Taco Bell in 1968 and Southern Oregon’s first McDonald’s, at 245 E. Barnett Road, opened in 1972.
The 1973 phone book ad for Medford’s new McDonald’s highlighted now nationally known menu items such as the Big Mac, the Filet-O-Fish and the Quarter Pounder, but in the early 1970s it was novel enough that the restaurant encouraged those stopping by to ask the manager about store tours in the same place it listed “children’s birthday parties” and “free use of portable orange bowl.”
The McDonald’s location was open until September 2020, when the restaurant was shuttered to make way for an all-new location adjacent to it in the WinCo Plaza.
Medford’s fast-food choices expanded dramatically by the mid 1980s. Medford diners hungry for a quick bite had their pick of an Arbys, two Domino’s pizzerias, a Pizza Hut, two Taco Bells and two Wendys.
In the mid 1990s, chicken was big business in the franchise world, but Mail Tribune archives show that the success would be shortlived. Kenny Rogers Roasters — known for its gold records from the country superstar’s singing career and its oversized wood rotisserie — called it quits in 1997 after less than two years at 61 E. Stewart Ave.
According to Mail Tribune archives, that was the same week that similar chicken-carving franchise Boston Market closed its franchise at 1250 Biddle Road. It lasted only a year and four months.
At the time, Kenny Rogers Roasters franchisee Mike Cotton told the Mail Tribune that businesses such as Applebees and the nearby HomeTown Buffet carved into his business, saying, “Medford is just over-restauranted.”
The late ‘90s is when we briefly saw Chevy’s Fresh Mex. Although the chain is long gone, a distressed billboard for the chain restaurant and its “freshest chips in town” has been part of the landscape along the 600 block of North Riverside Avenue since the summer of 2019.
The building that housed Chevy’s on Crater Lake Highway sat vacant for about two years at the turn of the new millennium until Olive Garden took it over in 2002.
In the last decade, Medford’s newest chain restaurant entries are largely of the “fast casual” variety. Medford’s saw its first Chipotle franchise in November 2012, its first MOD Pizza franchise in February 2017, its first Five Guys Burgers and Fries in November 2018, and Jersey Mike’s Subs came to town in 2020.