14 Fast Food Mascots We've Loved, Hated, and Found Incredibly Creepy

Fast Food Mascots illustration


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Burger King Mascot
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Behind the Mascot

Some fast food mascots have remarkable staying power. Ronald McDonald, for example, is decades older than most of his customers today. Other mascots come and go too quickly to remember. Even those who do stick around often have to change with the times. Either way, there's often more to a fast-food chain mascot than meets the eye. Here are the stories behind 14 infamous American fast-food mascots.

McDonald's restaurant
Joel Carillet/istockphoto

1. Ronald McDonald


Ronald McDonald is perhaps the world's most easily recognizable fast food mascot. He first appeared in 1963, though fans of today's friendly cartoon clown probably wouldn't recognize the original version, based on a then-popular TV character called Bozo the Clown. When Bozo was canceled, McDonald's hired the actor who played him to create another clown character whose costume was made of things found in McDonald's restaurants (such as a paper drinking cup instead of a red clown nose). That's how "Today" show weather reporter Willard Scott became the first-ever Ronald McDonald, a position he held through 1965.

McDonald's Grimace
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2. Grimace


Everyone knows Ronald McDonald, but until recently the Golden Arches' big purple bottom-heavy blob known as Grimace was a distant memory for some folks. With a 2023 promotional stunt meant to commemorate the purple dude's 50th birthday, he's back and better than ever. But his origin story?  He appeared in the early '70s as part of McDonaldland, which was populated by such characters as the Hamburglar, Mayor McCheese, Officer Big Mac, and Grimace. 

McDonaldland was strongly reminiscent of the then-popular children's show "H.R. Pufnstuf," and Pufnstuf creators Sid and Marty Krofft sued McDonald's successfully for copyright infringement. Though it stopped appearing in McDonald's ad campaigns, the half-century-old Grimace is still very much a part of the chain's marketing strategy.

Gidget the Taco Bell Mascot
Vern Evans Photo/Getty Images

3. The Taco Bell Chihuahua

Taco Bell

No fast food chain mascot roundup would be complete without mention of the "Yo Quiero Taco Bell" chihuahua, an almost-instant pop culture icon that debuted in 1997. The character was voiced by actor and comedian Carlos Alazraqui, who noted that his inspiration came, at least in part, from Ren Höek, the emotionally unstable chihuahua in The Ren & Stimpy Show cartoon. 

At the height of the mascot's popularity, toy figures were sold. But not everyone was a fan: Latin Americans branded the Taco Bell depiction as culturally insensitive and stereotypical, and at least one boycott ensued. In 2000, the campaign ended due to either pressure from Hispanic advocacy groups, declining revenue, or both. While it was rumored that the campaign's conclusion was due to the death of Gidget, the real-life dog that played the character, she didn't actually pass until 2009 at the age of 15. 

Wendy's restaurant sign
Kena Betancur/VIEWpress/Getty Images

4. Wendy


The freckle-faced red-haired little girl whose picture graces Wendy's restaurants is based on a real person: Wendy Thomas, daughter of company founder Dave Thomas. Fun fact: Every Wendy's location but one actually had red hair. A 2018 Reddit thread noted that the Hartsville, South Carolina, Wendy's sign depicted the mascot with black hair. Jokingly called "Goth Wendy" or "Emo Wendy," a recent update on the thread notes that the black has been replaced with red, but the internet has so far yielded no proof. 

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Jack in the Box mascot
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5. Jack

Jack in the Box

Jack I. Box — the spherically endowed mascot for the primarily West Coast-based fast food chain — was launched in 1994, but his history goes back a little farther. The company, founded in 1951, killed Jack off for nearly 15 years beginning in 1980 because it wanted to focus on a more adult customer. 

With his comically large round head and tendency to wear business suits, modern consumers might be forgiven for not knowing his true identity: Jack is a clown. When the chain brought him back in 1994, it gave him a fake identity that included family members (his wife's name is Cricket), a job title (founder and CEO), a background in politics, and even a rogue gene responsible for that huge noggin. While some adore the mascot — he hosted his own "deeply weird" Reddit AMA in 2018 — others find him creepy. Regardless, his presence in often irreverent and subversive ad campaigns has earned him a cult following that rivals that of the chain's taco fans.

Colonel Sanders' image on bucket-shaped sign above KFC franchise

6. Colonel Sanders (KFC)


The Colonel, resplendent in his bow tie and white suit, isn't just the KFC company mascot, but also its real-life founder — "Colonel" Harland David Sanders opened the first Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1930. He sold the company in 1964, strongly disapproving of various changes later made to his recipes. In the 1970s, one KFC restaurant tried to sue Sanders for libel (the case was eventually tossed out), after the Colonel told a newspaper reporter that KFC's gravy was "pure wallpaper paste," and "that new 'crispy' recipe is nothing in the world but a damn fried doughball stuck on some chicken." The real Col. Sanders died in 1980. In the late 1990s, an animated cartoon version appeared in KFC ads; a more stylized rendition adorns KFC restaurants today.

Famous Chick-fil-A Cows

7. The Cows (Chick-fil-A)


Chick-fil-A's mascots have long been a pair of black-and-white Holstein cows with strong self-preservation instincts and poor spelling skills, when they began urging people to "Eat mor chikin" in lieu of beef. The cows made their first appearance in 1995 painting a billboard in Atlanta, but have since moved throughout the country and are featured on plush toys and calendars.

Spongmonkeys (Quiznos)

8. Spongmonkeys


In the age of the internet, probably every ad writer hopes their commercial will go viral. The Quiznos Spongmonkeys did it backward, a viral sensation before starting their careers as ad mascots for a few months in 2004. The odd-looking, oddly named rodentlike creatures debuted in an online video called "We Like the Moon" a year earlier singing "We like the moon 'cause it is close to us" in loud, off-key voices. They became one of the earliest memes, catching the attention of Quiznos' marketers. Their first commercial followed fast, but the campaign ended only a few months later — partly because, while the ads were effective at generating attention, they were extremely unpopular with most Quiznos franchise owners.

Burger King Mascot
Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

9. The King (Burger King)

Burger King

Of course a fast food restaurant with "king" in its name would choose a royal mascot. The current representative — a live-action man wearing kingly garb and a creepily immobile plastic mask — is at least the fourth version. In the 1950s and '60s, there was a chubby-cheeked cartoon king sitting on a hamburger throne, and in the '70s, a smaller animated version voiced by Allen Swift, best known for voiceover work in "Underdog" and "Tom and Jerry" cartoons. In the '80s, there was a "Marvelous Magical Burger King," but by the end of the decade, the company phased out king-based mascots. The plastic-masked king (whose mask is based on a 1970s-era version found on eBay by an ad-agency employee) arrived in 2003.

Churchie the Chicken
Church's Chicken

10. Churchie the Chicken (Church's Chicken)

Church's Chicken

Church's Chicken restaurants have been around since the 1950s, but not until the 1980s did Churchie the Chicken become their mascot. That anthropomorphic chicken was actually the company's second attempt at a mascot named Churchie. The original 1950s Churchie was a smiling human chef with a round face and belly.

Chuck E. Cheese mascot
Phillip Faraone/Getty Images

11. Chuck E. Cheese

Chuck E. Cheese

Perhaps no one would have attested to the longevity of having a rat for a pizza chain mascot. Yet, nearly 50 years since the pizza chain's inception in 1977, Chuck E. Cheese is still rolling as his namesake restaurant's fictional spokesperson. Though he has often shared the stage with other characters like Jasper T. Jowls, Helen Henny, and Chef Pasqually, Cheese is undoubtedly the mascot most people associate with the oft-maligned pizza chain. 

Chuck received a makeover in 2012 and was rebranded as a leaner rock star and, for the last few years, his animatronic presence has been largely replaced with costumed human versions. Perhaps something the company's founders didn't plan on? Chuck and his stagemates were, at least in part, inspiration for the wildly popular horror video game, Five Nights at Freddy's. 

The Noid (Domino's Pizza)

12. The Noid (Domino's Pizza)

Domino's Pizza

You could say the Noid was not Domino's mascot, but its anti-mascot — the point of choosing Domino's was to "avoid The Noid," as ads said. The cartoonish Claymation villain debuted in 1986, resorting to various comical schemes to prevent Domino's from delivering its pizza in 30 minutes or less. 

Unfortunately, The Noid came to a sadder end than most cartoon mascots: In 1989, Kenneth Lamar Noid, 22, went to a Domino's in Georgia, and held two hostages at gunpoint for nearly five hours because he was convinced the company's commercials were directed at him. Noid was arrested and charged with crimes including kidnapping, but found not guilty by reason of insanity. He spent some time in a mental health facility, and in 1995 died in his Florida apartment. Domino's immediately ended the Noid campaign.

Bob's Big Boy
Wikimedia Commons

13. Big Boy and Dolly ()

Shoney's/Bob's Big Boy

The brown-haired Big Boy in his red-and-white checkered overalls has been the mascot for Shoney's Big Boy restaurants since the 1930s — named after a regular diner at the founder Bob Wian's original burger stand: "a chubby 6-year-old boy named Richard Woodruff," according to the company, whose "devotion inspired Bob to name the new burger Big Boy after his nickname for Richard." 

In the summer of 2020, to promote a new menu item, the company said it would replace Big Boy with a new mascot called Dolly, a blonde-haired girl who had been one of Big Boy's comic-book friends since the 1950s. Dolly briefly replaced Big Boy as the mascot on the Bob's company website, but Big Boy returned once the menu promotion ended.

Sambo's Old Logo

14. Boy and Tiger (Sambo's)


Two Californians named Sam Battistone and Newell Bohnett started a restaurant named "Sambo's" in 1957, supposedly from combining their names "Sam" and "Bo" — but most people figured they got the name from "The Story of Little Black Sambo," a 19th-century children's tale about a dark-skinned little boy who had a scary encounter with tigers, until the tigers ran so fast they melted into a giant pile of butter that Sambo's mother used to make pancakes. (The original name was "Sambo's Pancake House," and its mascot was a little black boy eating pancakes while a tiger watched, all with a tagline "The finest pancakes west of the Congo.") By 1960 that mascot was a light-skinned boy in a jeweled turban with a smiling tiger friend, with no mention of the Congo. 

That didn't quell complaints of a racist name, yet by the 1970s there were more than 1,000 Sambo's restaurants across the U.S. and a "Tiger Tamers" loyalty club for children. The chain faced increasing controversy over its name, a fairly common racist slur; by the early 1980s, it filed for bankruptcy protection, laying off thousands of workers. By 2020 only one Sambo's store remained: a California location owned by Battistone's grandson. When the nation erupted in protest after George Floyd died in Minneapolis police custody, the grandson changed the name to Chad's.