Bill Knapp's

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Bill Knapp's
Former typePrivate
IndustryCasual dining restaurant
Founded1956
Defunct2002
HeadquartersBattle Creek, Michigan, USA
Key peopleClinton B. Knapp, Founder
 
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Bill Knapp's
Former typePrivate
IndustryCasual dining restaurant
Founded1956
Defunct2002
HeadquartersBattle Creek, Michigan, USA
Key peopleClinton B. Knapp, Founder

Bill Knapp's was an American family restaurant chain. It was founded by Clinton B. Knapp (March 13, 1907 – October 15, 1974), in Battle Creek, Michigan in 1948. The chain operated in Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Illinois and Indiana, with more than 60 locations at its peak.[1]

The Menu[edit]

Bill Knapp's featured a menu primarily filled with typical family dining items. The menu included a limited breakfast, sandwiches, baskets, luncheon and dinner plates. A children's menu, featuring meals named for animals, was also offered. Recipes for their fried chicken, bean soup, vegetable soup, onion rings, au gratin potatoes, and chocolate cakes (later purchased by Awrey Bakeries)[2] were also featured. Locations replenished inventory on a daily basis with their own fleet of trucks. Bill Knapp placed great emphasis on the quality and freshness of the food, with added emphasis on preparing the food "from scratch."[3]

Birthday/Anniversary Discounts[edit]

Bill Knapp's was well known for its birthday and anniversary discount. Diners visiting Bill Knapp's on their birthday were entitled to a percentage off of their bill based on their age. Thus, a guest 62 years old would receive a 62% discount. Those celebrating a wedding anniversary were treated to a whole chocolate cake to take home, and in some restaurants, managers gave birthday patrons a cake to take home in addition to their discount. While the cake was being presented, Bing Crosby's recording of "Happy Birthday" and "The Anniversary Song" would be played over the restaurant's sound system for birthdays and anniversaries, respectively. It was widely said that anyone over 100 would actually be paid by the restaurant (such as a 101% discount on a 101st birthday), but there is no proof of this ever happening.

Demographics[edit]

Bill Knapp "was interested in providing decent food for a reasonable price with friendly service." The target clientele of his restaurants, often from rural areas, were white and lower-middle class. As the decades passed, the clientele remained nearly the same as it had when the chain first opened in 1948. By the 1980s and 1990s, the clientele was predominantly senior citizens, causing the chain to be mocked with titles such as "God's waiting room."

In 1998, in reaction to this aspect of their reputation, Bill Knapp's instituted a "That was then, this is WOW" marketing campaign, as well as an overall revamp of the chain's image. The changes included revising old building exteriors with newer, hipper color schemes, and further changes, including the installation of televisions and video games in restaurants.[4][5]

The "That was then, this is WOW" campaign not only changed the interior and exterior décor, but the menu as well. Prior to 1996, Bill Knapp's relied on a commissary system which supplied all of its restaurants daily or every other day. In an effort to cut costs, the commissary model was abandoned in favor of purchasing food from food services local to each restaurant.

Downfall[edit]

This overhaul of the chain's demographics, however, proved unsuccessful. Loyal diners felt alienated by the changes made; abandonment of Mr. Knapp's "from-scratch" philosophy drove these loyal customers away for good. Furthermore, the campaign failed to recruit the younger family crowd, resulting in further erosion of the chain's customer base.

Another reason for the shift away from the made from-scratch philosophy was a Listeria outbreak in the early 1990s. As the restaurant struggled to recover from the negative publicity, many new, updated food safety standards were initiated. Some food preparation that was taking place in the restaurants had be to moved back to the commissaries, to be monitored more closely. This was not as cost-effective, as more foods needed to be processed and frozen to ensure safety. As commissary costs continued to rise, more of Bill Knapp's signature foods had to be outsourced to larger processing facilities.

By 2000 the commissaries were becoming little more than distribution centers. Fresh, handmade hamburger patties were replaced by frozen, eggs by a powdered substitute, and even the marinated chicken breasts were coming in frozen packages. (Raw chicken breasts used to be marinated overnight in the restaurants.) While the organization elevated food safety standards to the highest, higher costs combined with lower quality to lead the chain to its ultimate downfall.

In 2001 Bill Knapp's tried to reverse course by announcing that "The Tradition is Back," restoring the original menu and some original décor, but by then it was too late.[3] By 2002, the chain's last restaurant had closed.[6]

Chocolate Cake Legacy[edit]

Bill Knapp's 6-inch chocolate birthday cakes, officially known as Bill Knapp's Celebration Cakes, were regarded as one of the chain's dearest features.[3] Because of the popularity of the cakes, Awrey's Bakery purchased the rights to make them,[7] following Bill Knapp's original recipe.[8] The cakes are available from Awrey's in-store bakery and at many Kroger Stores as well. Kroger now also carries Bill Knapp's Nutty & Glazed Dunkers.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Midwest's Bill Knapp's files for Chapter 11 - News Digests FindArticles. Retrieved on August 2, 2007
  2. ^ Bill Knapp's signature cakes exclusive at Meijer Meijer. Retrieved on August 2, 2007
  3. ^ a b c Bill Knapp's is gone, but not forgotten BattleCreekEnquirer.com Retrieved on May 14, 2009
  4. ^ Bill Knapp's old building Retrieved on August 2, 2007
  5. ^ Bill Knapp's new building Retrieved on August 2, 2007
  6. ^ An open letter to Bill Knapp's guests from Jamie Brown The Internet Wayback Machine. Retrieved on August 2, 2007.
  7. ^ The Best Chocolate Cake; Bill Knapp's Signature Cakes Exclusive at Meijer. Access My Library. Retrieved on May 14, 2009
  8. ^ Bill Knapp's Celebration Cake Awrey's Bakery. Retrieved on May 14, 2009