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Death Notice Guestbook

Obituary: William D. Peters / President of Eat'n Park restaurants

Sunday, August 20, 2000

By Dennis B. Roddy, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

William D. Peters, who helped make Eat'n Park restaurants a familiar sight on the Western Pennsylvania landscape, died Friday at 87.

More than half a century ago, in the postwar boom of 1949, Peters left a supervisory job at Isaly's Restaurants, then the region's dominant chain of eateries, to join another Isaly's executive, Larry Hatch, in introducing Pittsburghers to drive-in service and a hamburger called the Big Boy.

"Mr. Hatch was in Ohio checking on some Isalys and saw how successful the new Big Boy franchise was there," Mr. Peters' son, Michael Peters, of Bethel Park, recalled yesterday.

After hatching the idea for a drive-in restaurant, a name was sought. "Park and Eat" was a common sign along Pennsylvania roadways at the time and the entrepreneurs doubted they could patent it. Instead, they reversed the verbs and "Eat'n Park" was born.

The Big Boy hamburger was the creation of a California restaurateur who, in order to get a nationwide patent, needed to add another franchise so he could claim a national presence.

Michael Peters said Hatch and his father reached a deal to use the Big Boy name on their burger for 25 years. By the time the agreement ran out in 1974, Eat'n Park had transformed from drive-ins where customers ate in their cars, to sit-down restaurants with hostesses, table service, and a menu that covered everything from breakfast to dessert. The Big Boy hamburger became the Super Burger.

Mr. Hatch stayed with Isaly's for several years while financing the Eat'n Park deal. Mr. Peters left immediately to manage day-to-day operations, Michael Peters said yesterday.

Isaly's eventually atrophied, the victim of growing fast-food chains. But with Eat'n Park's rapid expansion between 1949 and 1956 -- when the McDonalds chain revolutionized the restaurant business -- the chain, with its red-and-white signs and signature "Smiley" cookie, was firmly established.

But at the time Mr. Peters left Isaly's to become the first president of Eat'n Park, the move, from a comfortable income as a regional manager, carried considerable risk, his son said.

"There were a lot of big worries. My dad had six children at the time," Michael Peters said.

Mr. Peters retired from the company in the mid-1970s after a heart attack. Mr. Hatch, famously publicity shy, remained at the head of the company until his death in 1998 at age 91.

In addition to his son Michael, Mr. Peters is survived by daughters Judith Zeigler of Bridgeville; Maureen Taylor of Jacksonville, Fla.; and Patricia Morgan of Upper St. Clair; and a son, William Peters Jr., of Upper St. Clair.

Also surviving are a brother, Ronald Peters, of Baldwin, and a sister, Mary Reinkmeyer, of Cumberland, Md.

Friends will be received from 2 to 9 p.m. today at Beinhauer's, 2828 Washington Road, Peters. A Mass of Christian Burial will be at 11 a.m. tomorrow at St. Anne Church. Burial will follow at Queen of Heaven Cemetery.

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