Monday, October 13, 2008

Rax Revisited

Does anyone else remember Rax Restaurants? Just a few days ago I was driving through Anderson, Indiana and decided to stop in at one of the last remaining Rax locations.

In it's heyday, Rax was sort of like Arby's but better. They had a great salad bar and a pasta bar along with tasty roast beef sandwiches, shakes, chocolate chip cookies, etc. My love for the company took off when I worked at the store that used to exist in New Haven, Indiana (my home town). Ironically, today that Rax is an Arby's.

Besides the food, I have great memories of working there with friends (for instance, Uvulapie and I worked there together) and having my first significant religious experience (I'm serious--and, no, it didn't involve seeing the face of Elmer Fudd in a tortilla--that happened in a bathroom at Walmart.). While some people answer "altar calls" at a church, I did so at Rax.

Many of you have probably had the experience where you make out something from your past to be better than it actually was. This was not the case in 2003 when some co-workers and I ventured up to Anderson for a Rax visit during an extra long lunch hour. Rax was just like it was when I left it. The BBC ("Beef Bacon and Cheddar") was tangy with crisp bacon. The thick cut fries were perfect and the inside of the store looked just like the one where I used to work. They had the things you sort of expect when you go to a fast food restaurant--like napkins, cups and french fry boxes with the company logo. The place was clean and there were plenty of people inside.

I hoped that this visit would be just as good, but I was extremely disappointed. The Rax looked exactly like it did in 2003...and in 1989. It didn't look like it had been cleaned since 2003 and the place looked stale and desolate. The Rax branded paper cups, french fry boxes and straws were replaced with the generic ones you get from Sam's Club. The food was...not that great. Perhaps it would be better if the place was gone completely so I wouldn't be so tempted to come up and relive a few moments from my youth.

In recent months, the "Rax" trademark has been purchased by a man named Rich Donohue. Believe it or not, he used to work at a Rax as an employee just like me. Later in life he bought one of the remaining stores and then he bought the trademark for the company. The name of his company is From Rax to Rich's--that's actually quite clever.

My selfish hope is that somehow this company will rise up again in the crowded fast-food industry. If you remember Rax or even still have one in your area, please let me know.

Here's a reel of some old Rax commercials I found on YouTube...enjoy!


Wani said...

I remember Rax... good stuff... back then. The commercials are a nice flashback!

Toni said...

Oh man, we LOVED Rax. Living in the country, our dining options were limited. But there was always Rax on the Oberlin College grounds. So we'd head to Rax and sit down to a meal (loved that salad bar) while watching the interesting mix of OC students passing by. Think Bohemian thrift store. Their clothes always fascinated me. These were (are) some of the most privileged kids in America (a la Chelsea Clinton's boyfriend), but it just wasn't represented in their attire. Stilll, it made for people watch fun during our lunches at Rax.

Rachel said...

Oh yeah....Guy and I both loved Rax. He tells me stories of how he used to go to the one on Coldwater in Ft. Wayne close to the Residence Inn where he moonlighted as a hotel attendant...I tell him of how my parents took us there only on special occasions, like my 7th birthday. I am SO SORRY to hear about your newfound Rax experience...what a disappointment to us all.

Jeff said...

I remember eating at a Rax just once, but it was the bomb. Never could understand why they went out of business.

True story: remember when Hardee's brought back the Big Shef a few years ago? They did it because there's a company in Chicago (maybe the same folks who bought the Rax trademark) that resurrects old brands with sentimental value after their current owners forfeit the brand due to lengthy disuse. Hardee's was on the edge of forfeiting the Burger Chef brand, so rather than lose it to a potential competitor, they brought back the Big Shef advertising it as "The Burger Chef Big Shef." Too bad. I was looking forward to Burger Chef rising again...

Sniz said...

I had never seen those commercials, but that place looks awesome. You know me...I LOVE to customize my food! Why didn't that work for them? It works for Subway. Maybe it's just too competitive.

Randy said...


We had several "Rax" restaurants back here. Personally, I never did care for them. Sorry, nothing personal. Maybe it was the one I went to that was run-down, dirty and slow service. The one here ended up being a Chinese place if I remember it right.

I love Roast Beef but I even find the quality and cleanliness of most Arby's restaurants to be under par.

We all have things that take us back in time. It's funny in a way how we remember things and they seemed bigger than life. We see it again and it isn't quite the same.

As always your posts are cute, funny and entertaining!

By the way, still hope to see all of you soon!

Blessings my friend,


Uvulapie said...

Who can forget MEAT SHAKES?

Or that family (I know they were your neighbors but I can't remember their names) who would come in, clean out the garlic bread, and each be reading their own book. MORE GARLIC BREAD!

Arby said...

They nailed it in those commercials. I ALWAYS fight the urge to break out in song in front of a salad bar. I might just give in the next time I'm at an Old Country Buffet and jump into the "Dance of the Cucumber" while the Boss translates. Maybe the waitresses should wear those shiny gold dresses from the commercial while they clear plates from our tables. Oh, but I jest. Your post makes me long for the burger joint of my youth...White Castle. Ah, for a double with cheese and onion rings....Can't get those in Kansas City.

Jeff said...

And you know the rotten filthy shame of it, Arby? Not so long ago you COULD get a double with cheese and onion rings in Kansas City--and all around it. This burg used to have White Castles out the ying-yang, as recently as 1992 (the year I moved here). And now they're all GONE. How was this allowed to happen? Why, even in Olathe, if you didn't mind it coming from a converted drive-through hot dog stand, you could get sliders--damn good ones, too. We must repent!

Big Doofus said...

This one struck a nerve with you. I guess that I'm not the only one who remembers Rax and most (not all) of you actually liked it.

Rachel - I think that Guy and I hit the Rax in New Haven quite a few times.

Jeff - I've noticed the thing with Burger Chef, too. I remember being a member of the Burger Chef birthday club or something when I was a youngin. You can look up a lot of their old commercials online as they were much more established than Rax.

Sniz - You would have loved the Rax pasta bar back when Uvulapie used to man it at our store. He actually made sure it was kept up--and clean.

Randy - Hope to see you in person sometime.

Uvulapie - It was the Everils, The truth is that they were the nicest family in the world--just a bit different. Honestly, I think they were just smart and well read. That didn't go over well with us regular white trash types. I still feel a lot of remorse for how I trashed that family over the years. Jim, if you're out there, I'm sorry for being such a rotten neighbor.

Arby - You have no business going to a place called "Rax" with a name like "Arby." If you ever make it to Indy, be sure to look my up and I'll buy you some "sliders" at White Castle.

I forgot to mention one thing about working at Rax...back in the day, they had home made cookies. The company would ship frozen chocolate chip cookie dough balls in boxes and we just throw them on the cookie sheet and put them in the oven. They were great fresh out of the oven, but even better out of the freezer. We ate so much cookie dough there. Oh, and Uvulapie mentioned the "meat shake." One time when one of my pals came in I made him a Chili Shake with cheese sprinkled on top. I'm sure it tasted horrible, but it looked cool.

Rebekah said...

I LOVED Rax- they had the best Chocolate chip milk shakes

eally said...

Oh I loved the salad bar! It was so inexpensive to eat there.

Perry said...

My name is Perry Knox and I am the Owner/Operator of the Rax Restaurant in Anderson Indiana. I found your blog quite by accident while doing a search and was disappointed in your visit to our restaurant. After doing a little search on your blog, I came across a picture of your family (at the Spaghetti Factory) and noted that you are like myself a family man.

My Wife and I have operated this location since 1987 and work very hard to support our family of 4 children..3 of which are of similar ages to your children while our oldest is defending freedom in the US Armed Forces. I hope each day that I do not receive the phone call that every parent does not want to receive, but like most parents of service personnel, we concentrate on loving our families and understand that our children are supporting the very freedoms that allow the freedom of speech enjoyed by people like yourself and for example this Blog.

Being a franchised member of the Rax Restaurant chain, my wife and I have watched as corporate take-over and dispersal of assets have played its role in our lives. Even our downtown location has witnessed the evacuation of retail business to other parts of our city..closer to the interstate, nearer to the Walmart, etc. Still, we open our restaurant each day and greet our "regulars" who have watched our family grow and become an integral part of our community. I personally have volunteered many hours coaching children of varying economic and social backgrounds, while my wife faithfully donated her time to our church. But still, we are the Last Rax in Indiana.

Many of our employees have been here for years demonstrating the commitment our small business has to its employees and believe that we want to support those employees through the ups and downs of their lives as well.

I wanted to write to you to put a personal face on our restaurant. I took the picture that you copied from the Rax Website...I thought it may be a positive thing to do to help other Family Owned Rax Restaurants stay in business after the demise of our Corporate entity...I thought it would be a positive thing to do. This Restaurant is not a financial windfall as many may assume. Our family owns a modest home in a "transitional" neighborhood and I find myself doing more and more repairs personally each year.

I can only apologize for your poor visit that you received. I share your thoughts concerning the "old days" and wishing that things would remain as they were. We have struggled over the years keeping Logos on Cups, and maintaining a connection with the Rax Past, but we truly are a small business. You may have noticed the showcase in the Dining Room of Vintage Rax Memorabilia that we proudly display and discuss frequently with our Patrons. At one time, Rax had over 500 Restaurants and was voted America's Number One Sandwich Chain by Restaurants & Institutions Magazine.

I thought the comment that our Restaurant looked like it hadn't been cleaned since 2003 wasn't a nice thing to say, but that is Freedom of Speech. I would like to point out, however, that we post our Health Department Scores by the front cash register for review by our customers and this restaurant has received No Violations in the last 2 semi-annual inspections. We are proud of those scores. We did remodel the Dining Room in January 2008 including new Wall Coverings and Decor.

I do not share your opinion that perhaps we should be "gone completely" and I hope that day never comes. Our family puts more than just hours into this business and with the current state of the economy, we face new challenges each day. I am not so much worried for myself as I am the welfare of my children and our ability as parents to attend to their needs. As a father and a business owner, I try each day to make ends meet. Owning a Franchised Restaurant of a failed concept in a Downtown Area is a challenge enough some days.

I can only offer my sincere apologies for not maintaining those memories you have of the New Haven Rax.

Sincerely, Perry Knox

Sheriene said...

I agree that usually what we remember as being terrific in the past is not always what we thought it to be. Sadly though, I believe you are being too critical based solely on your own inflated expectations. I found your blog extremely unkind and unfair in your reflections. This particular Rax was remodeled in January 2008, however prior to that we have enjoyed seeing new additions to the antiques displayed and personally talking with the owner, Perry.

Sheriene said...

Regarding the "generic" containers, it has no affect on the taste of the food and I appreciate companies that try to contain costs rather than forward them on to their customers.

For those of us living in this area, this Rax holds happy memories for us and we say thank you for continuing to keep this local gathering place open. We understand in these economic times that some things must change, but the friendships and smiles continue.

To comment about being "gone completely" is unjust and I for one think you owe an apology for being unkind. A more appropriate comment would be to say you were disappointed by your own inflated expectations generated by fond memories.

Sadly, I think this will be a reoccurring theme for you until you realize things are not the same....not just here but everywhere.

I for one am proud of all Perry has accomplished and there is something to be said for "the last one standing"! He has obviously accomplished what others could not and has invested a great deal of himself in this venture. I applaud him for the smart business man that he is and his committment to his customers, his staff and his family....he is my brother and I admire him!

Sincerely Sheriene

dan said...

yes, id love to see rax rise from the ashes!