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Nearly 30 years after coming to Yucatán, Burger King reigns in Mexico

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One of the oldest buildings on one of Merida’s busiest corners is a home of the Whopper. Photo: Lee Steele / YEL

McDonald’s may rule in the United States, but in Mexico, hamburger lovers prefer the Home of the Whopper.

Cooked over a flame rather than a flat griddle, Burger King’s hamburgers have a flavor profile that Mexican consumers apparently prefer. Today, the chain has 430 branches throughout Mexico, more than any other hamburger franchise in the country.

And it all started in Yucatan, where Burger King first arrived in 1991.

The chain found itself at home. Even in the historic center of Mérida, there are at least two Burger Kings on prime street corners. A larger one north of the Centro is on a roundabout affectionately called “the Burger King Circle.”

Today, at least 17 Burger Kings operate in Merida. They overshadow the five local McDonald’s — six if you count a branded dessert stand at one of the malls.

Well before going international, Burger King was created in 1953 by Keith J. Kramer and his wife’s uncle, Matthew Burns, in Jacksonville, Florida, originally called Insta-Burger King.

Insta-Burger King caught the attention of James McLamore and David R. Edgerton, both graduates of the Cornell University School of Hotel Management. The friends had already visited Dick and Mac McDonald’s original burger stand in San Bernardino, California. The concept of serving fast food captivated them.

McLamore and Edgerton acquired an Insta-Burger King license and opened a Miami operation in late 1954.

Five years later, the duo already had several branches in Miami-Dade County and had improved the cooking process by replacing “insta-broilers” with a gas grill system.

McLamore and Edgarton eventually bought the national rights to the chain and renamed the brand Burger King of Miami.

Also, McLamore created the Whopper, a stacked hamburger to compete with the Big Mac, and an emblem of the company.

The company made its first forays into television advertising in 1958. Only a year later it became known as the Burger King Corporation. Under that name, it sold territorial licenses to private franchises in the United States.

In 1963, Burger King opened its first restaurant outside the continental United States, in Puerto Rico. Ten years later, in 1975, they opened a European franchise in Madrid, Spain.

Currently, the brand operates more than 12,500 locations in 78 countries around the world. In addition, it has more than 11 million consumers per day.

About 90 percent of Burger King restaurants are owned and operated by independent franchises. Some of them are run by family businesses that have been in business for decades.

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