A King’s Crown
May 22, 2019 04:56PM
By Kara Schweiss
Deb Price’s parents, Larry and Esther Price, sold King’s Food Host restaurants nearly 50 years ago, but she says locals still harbor nostalgia for the chain.
King’s started in Lincoln in 1955 and grew to 150 locations in 17 U.S. states and Canada, and was named for co-owner James King, who left the business in 1960. The Facebook page Price helps manage was launched by an enthusiast in 2012 and now has 1,200 fans. The restaurant is also a regular topic on local Facebook pages like Forgotten Omaha and Omaha History Club.
People who know of, or discover, Price’s connection to the restaurant love to share their memories, she says. They talk about branding details such as the big crown signage or the iconic diamond pattern appearing on everything from wallpaper to napkins; or smaller elements such as the branded silverware or the plastic hand puppets and King’s Kids figurines for young diners. But when it comes to the food, virtually everyone will talk about three particular menu items.
“When people talk about King’s, what they remember is the Cheese Frenchee, the onion rings, and the chocolate shakes,” she says. “My dad invented the Cheese Frenchee.”
Cheese “frenchees” (sometimes spelled “frenchies”) may appear on local menus today, but no one has ever really duplicated the original, Price says. The influence of King’s, however, lingers in restaurants such as Don and Millie’s, which was started by King’s alum Dean Rasmussen.
The crown once rose above streets all over the city. Price recalls that in Omaha alone, two stand-up King’s restaurants graced either end of Westroads Mall when it opened in 1967, joining freestanding brick-and-mortar locations on 72nd and Cass, 72nd and L, 30th and Farnam, and 16th and Howard streets, among others.
However, the restaurant business was just one of her father’s endeavors. “He started entrepreneurship at age 11 selling pop on the corner of 27th and O in Lincoln,” she says. He was also a Nebraska Wesleyan University football and basketball coach, a police officer, a mail carrier, a grocer, and a real-estate developer—sometimes juggling more than one career at a time. Deb says Larry thought outside the box, with ideas that were “way, way beyond his time,” such as a coffee bar inside a grocery store in the 1940s or following a locally sourced philosophy decades before the term locally sourced even existed.
“My dad grew up dirt poor and became a self-made millionaire,” she says.
The Prices also shared their wealth, though they were somewhat quiet philanthropists. “It’s important for people to know my mom and dad gave back to the community.” And while the public usually associates her father with King’s, Price says her parents built the franchise together.
King’s didn’t last long after being sold to investors. “The investors were more about quantity than quality,” Price explains, and diners could tell the difference. Some of the buildings now house other restaurant brands or different businesses. But Price holds a premier collection of King’s memorabilia: framed menus and photos; trademarked aprons, hats, and silverware; even some of the booths with a telephone receiver once used for ordering and a large backlit menu.
“I see items on eBay, but it’s always things I already have,” she says. As for her impressive collection, Price says she would be open to lending items to a history organization or museum for an exhibition the public could enjoy, but she wouldn’t sell any of it.
This article first appeared in the May 2019 edition of 60PLUS in Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.