When Ken McCarthy retired in 1970, neither Bob Farrell nor Dale Belford could afford to buy Ken's interest in the company. The partners agreed to find a buyer for Farrell's. Dale approached several companies, including Campbell's, Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald's Corporation. None wanted to buy the business since the concept was more complex than their core businesses were.
Raleigh Hills manager Ed Hostman poses with Rose Festival Queen Mary Matney on June 5, 1972
Finally, in June, 1972, Marriott Corporation agreed to buy Farrell’s. Marriott, best known for their hotels, actually began in the 1920's with the Hot Shoppes restaurants in the Washington DC area. Marriott had acquired the Big Boy restaurant chain and started up Roy Rogers roast beef restaurants in the late 1960's. In the early 1970’s, Marriott was looking to diversify its portfolio toward entertainment venues; the same year they acquired Farrell’s, Marriott announced its plans to construct three “Great America” theme parks, two of which eventually were built. Farrell’s had all the makings of an outstanding investment - rapid growth, profitability, national market capability. Marriott’s initial investment in the chain was $120 million, which included $7.5 million of company stock paid to Farrell's partners and the assumption of $112.5 million of debt.
With the acquisition of Farrell’s, Marriott began aggressively trying to recapture the territorial franchises as company-owned parlours. The Washington State franchises and Los Angeles franchises were repurchased by Marriott, and the Michigan franchises were also bought back. The remaining franchisees kept their territories (for better or worse).
A parlour in the Midwest
Marriott provided critical resources for Farrell’s expansion plan, since the large corporation was headquartered in Bethesda Maryland. Marriott facilitated the expansion of Farrell’s in the northeast United States, beginning with the opening of the parlour in Landover, Maryland. Soon, parlours would open in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Virginia. Not all growth was concentrated in the northeast, however. New parlours in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Utah, New Mexico, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and elsewhere were popping up (As one former Farrell's manager told me, Farrell's would drop a new parlour on any piece of dry land they could find).
Farrell's Manager or Mime?
By 1974, Farrell’s was truly a national chain (there was even a franchised parlour in Vancouver, British Columbia). Up to this point, only a handful of parlours were closed. A plane crashed into the parlour on Freeport Blvd in Sacramento in 1972; that parlour was subsequently closed down. The original parlour on Burnside Avenue in Portland was retired in 1974, replaced with the new parlour in the Washington Square Shopping Center. The Salem Oregon parlour closed in 1970. Three Los Angeles franchise stores (located in Santa Ana, Fullerton, and on Brookhurst St. in Huntington Beach) were closed by Marriott when the franchise was repurchased in late 1973. But all in all, the company was doing well. Those stores that were marginal profit-wise still made more money with the doors open than closed, at least for now.