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Red Barn restaurants were fairly prevalent when I was growing up. The 8 Mile and Lahser location was a favorite hangout for those of us attending Southfield High School in the 1970's. We would go there for lunch and gather with our hot rods, squawking our tires. I don't think the owners or other patrons loved it much as eventually the police began kicking us out.
Eventually the Red Barns in Michigan closed but some of the very distinctive buildings remain. They are disappearing fast, however. This entry will be used to compile the Michigan locations together and I will add on to it as I get more information and photos, which are hard to come by.
There is some confusion around identifying authentic Red Barns for a few reasons. 1) There are lots of other restaurants using the "Barn" name, including some that call themselves "Red Barn" outright yet were never affiliated with the Red Barn Hamburger chain. 2) There are lots of outlets (some restaurants, some not) who have barn-like buildings that some people assume were former red barns. For example, Dairy Queen built a slew of locations with the barn theme, but those weren't Red Barns in a past life. The "Gun Barn" on Highland Rd was assumed by many to be a former Red Barn but it was not.
I want to acknowledge the efforts of Bobby Peacock in nailing down the locations of the Red Barns and all of the other vintage restaurants in Michigan. I don't know how he did it but his lists are the best resource on this.
The Red Barn restaurant was a fast-food restaurant chain founded in 1961 in Springfield, Ohio, by Don Six, Martin Levine, and Jim Kirst. In 1963, the small chain was purchased by Richard O. Kearns, operated as Red Barn System, with the offices moving briefly to Dayton, Ohio and in August 1964 to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. During the late 1960s United Servomation, also called Servomation, bought the Red Barn chain.
In 1978, United Servomation merged with the City Investing Company's GDV division which also owned the Motel 6 motel chain. Only interested in real estate, construction, and financial services the new owners ceased advertising for the chain along with allowing the franchise leases to expire with the last of the leases expiring around 1988. At its peak, Red Barn had 300–400 restaurants in 19 states, as well as outlets in southern Ontario, elsewhere in Canada, and Australia.
Following the shutdown of operations, most of the Red Barn buildings were converted for other uses. A few of the chain restaurants were renamed "The Farm" in various states and continued serving the same menu items available when they were under their Red Barn franchise. There were two locations under "The Farm" name in Racine, Wisconsin and Bradford, Pennsylvania that served the same menu items. The Bradford location closed for a brief period in 2014 from a small fire and permanently closed in December 2015. The Racine, Wisconsin store closed on February 2, 2020. The Australian Red Barn stores were sold and converted into McDonald's locations.
Starting in the early 2000s, there was a wave of Red Barn nostalgia as evidenced by Facebook groups popping up. As of 2022, there are several groups with thousands of members. Some of them have called upon an interested entrepreneur(s) to bring back Red Barn as they thought it would be successful.
Originally, the Red Barn restaurants were in the shape of barns with a glass front and limited seating. The design of the building was patented in 1962 by Red Barn Systems, Incorporated of Springfield, Ohio, which granted the franchise licenses. Later buildings had the familiar fast-food style mansard roof which allowed them to comply to more local building codes.
They were known for "Big Barney" (a hamburger similar to a Big Mac) and the "Barnbuster" (similar to a Quarter Pounder or Whopper.) The chain was quite forward-looking with their food choices: the Big Barney predated the Big Mac by a few years, and it was the first chain to have self-service salad bars.
The restaurant chain had a TV commercial jingle whose lyrics were: "When the hungries hit / When the hungries hit / Hit the Red Barn." Another commercial jingle used in North East Ohio included the line "You'll find more of what you are hankerin' for, at the Red Barn." Three mascots were used in the franchise's commercials: "Hamburger Hungry" (a humanoid figure with a hamburger in bun for a head); "Chicken Hungry" (a chicken leg); and "Big Fish Hungry" (a blue fish).
In Australia, the appearance of Red Barney was common on Cartoon Corner with Daryl Somers. He was an affable clown who gave away prizes and preceded Ronald McDonald.
In the spring of 1970, the chain found itself at the center of controversy when a franchisee wanted to erect a store in Dinkytown, a neighborhood adjacent to the University of Minnesota-East Bank campus in Minneapolis MN. Protestors, who were already riding a wave of anti-corporatism, as well as an anti-Vietnam war sentiment, occupied a vacant building on the property in which the Red Barn franchisee owned. The franchisee eventually demolished the building. However, the restaurant was never built, and the property was later sold off. However a Red Barn location opened nearby in Stadium Village.