Find a bunch of New Yorkers waxing nostalgic over hamburgers from the good old days and you’re likely to hear Wetson’s enter the conversation. The restaurant’s history is brief, slayed mercilessly during the fast food wars of the 1970s. Still, amongst those who had the pleasure, it remains one of the most fondly remembered burger joints from the era.
In 1959, the fast food giant of the West Coast, McDonald’s, had yet to open any restaurants in the New York area. Two men from Valley Stream, Harold Norbitz and Carl Wetanson (a popular race car driver on the Island) visited a McDonald’s in Chicago, were impressed by the concept, and decided to duplicate it in New York, hopefully before the Golden Arches made their inevitable entrance into the local market.
With White Castle serving as their only real competition, the pair opened their first Wetson’s location. Each stand featured rows of bright orange circles on the roof, and offered a walk-up window and outdoor seating only.
Wetson’s menu was practically identical to McDonald’s, with hamburgers, french fries, drinks and shakes. The burgers were 15-cents and could be “bought by the bagful, while the fries, made from hand-peeled potatoes, cost a whole dime. In a further nod to McDonald’s, Wetson’s presented two mascots, Wetty and Sonny, who were, you guessed it, clowns.
Over the next decade, Wetson’s expanded over much of the Northeast, opening over 70 locations across New Jersey, Connecticut, Staten Island, Brooklyn, and yes, Long Island. Unfortunately, McDonald’s and Burger King had both grown significantly, with each vying to capture the majority of the New York market.
In 1975, unable to compete with the behemoths, Wetson’s finally threw in the towel and closed all of their location. Many Long Island fast food fans have mourned their loss ever since.
Sadly, I was unable to dig up any commercials or related video for Wetson’s to share in this article. Even images of the restaurant are pretty scarce online, so I can’t even show you an old menu. I wish that wasn’t the case, and hope that if you have any old photos, you consider sharing them with the site.
At least I can conclude this article with this little glimmer of hope – a few years ago, National Food Brands bought the rights to the Wetson’s name. Whether that suggests a comeback in the works, I don’t know and I’ll leave the speculating to others online. Once can certainly dream though.
In the meantime, I want to hear from all of the fans of this former fast food chain. Which location did you visit? What do you remember most about the food? I welcome all of your memories of Wetson’s in our comments section below as we pay tribute to this little slice of Long Island in the 1970s.