What ever happened to Lum's, the restaurant chain known for its beer-steamed hot dogs?
The company went from 450 locations and purchasing Caesars Palace to bankruptcy.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
As you ride the moving sidewalk from the Las Vegas Strip to the entrance of Caesars Palace — past the fountains, marble and however million light bulbs — just remember that it all began with hot dogs cooked in beer. In 1955, Cliff Perlman was a U.S. Army vet and small-time lawyer in Miami. He and his brother put up $6,000 to purchase a 16-seat diner on the main drag in the middle of Miami Beach. The joint's specialty was hot dogs steam-cooked in beer. The place was named Lum's.
Six years later, the Perlmans were taking their pioneering fast-casual franchise public on the New York Stock Exchange. At its height, the Lum's fast food chain claimed 450 locations around the country, as far as Hawaii and Puerto Rico. It's no wonder the company was a hit. What could be more American than hot dogs and beer? (Okay, admittedly that sounds a little more German.) Lum's specialty cost just .35¢. An extra nickel got you Sherry Flavored Sourkraut on top.
The simple menu also offered fried seafood, hot roast beef sandwiches, a "Submarine" (their quotes) and burgers. The international beer selection was another unique hook, as one could wash down those hot dogs with brews from Japan, Denmark, Mexico, Ireland, Germany and the Philippines. This was far from common in a big chain in the early 1970s.
Here is a vintage Lum's menu, for example.
Like most Americans — and American companies — Lum's had Bicentennial Fever around 1976. This children's "Stars and Stripes" menu offers up "Ben Franklinfurters" and "Alexander Hamburgers." No, they were not cooked in beer. Comedian Milton Berle starred in commercials for the chain, taking pies to the face and dressing in drag.
However, by this point the Perlmans had flipped their company to another owner. In 1969, the Feds were circling around the three-year-old Caesars Palace hotel in Las Vegas. The adult resort was a hot spot, especially after Evel Knievel jumped its fountains in 1967. However, it was suspected that Caesars had ties to organized crime, and the owners were pressured to sell.
Enter the Perlmans. The Lum's brothers purchased Caesars Palace for $60 million. Two years later, the Perlmans dumped Lum's off to the chairman of Kentucky Fried Chicken and changed their company's name to Caesars World.
KFC bigwig John Y. Brown oversaw Lum's for most of the 1970s. While his chicken chain flourished, Lum's struggled. In 1978, the number of Lum's was down to 273. A Swiss chain called Wienerwald purchased Lum's. Wienerwald, confusingly to Americans, had nothing to do with weiners. It specialized in chicken and schnitzel. "Wien" is just German for Vienna.
Yet, the many locations were too much for Wienerwald to handle. In 1982, Lum's filed for bankruptcy. The chain largely vanished.
However, one location held on for decades in Bellevue, Nebraska. It finally closed in 2017.