Commentary: Zesto is back in Winston-Salem

Zesto Burgers & Ice Cream officially opened for business this week at 2600 New Walkertown Road.

Commentary: Zesto is back in Winston-Salem
May 24
01:00 2018

I grew up in a shotgun house on Liberty Street with my grandmother. She was very entrepreneurial and ran several different businesses; however she also was the manager at a small walk-up restaurant called Zesto. Needless to say, we ate lots of burgers, hot dogs and ice cream during my younger days.

The history of Zesto started with entrepreneur and inventor L.A.M. Phelan, who began Zesto as a national franchise chain. Phelan was an inventor, businessman, and head of the Taylor Freezer Corporation, which in 1945 had developed the “Zest-O-Mat” frozen custard machine. Franchise agreements granted exclusive use of the Zest-O-Mat machines in a given territory under the Zesto name.

Zesto started in 1945 as a subsidiary of Taylor Freezer Corporation, a Rockton, Illinois company that manufactured soft serve ice cream machines. The machines were called “Zest-O-Mat” and thus the name Zesto. Originally meant to compete with Dairy Queen, Zesto was conceived as an ice cream only store with no other food items. By late 1949, Zestos were operating in 46 states.
The first known Zesto opened in Jefferson City, Missouri. Many more opened in the late ’40s and early ’50s.

Beginning in the early 1950s, Taylor Freezer Co. was becoming frustrated with the retail business as stores were closing and franchisees were unhappy. By 1955 Taylor had completely abandoned the concept and left the remaining franchisees to fend for themselves.

By this time all Zestos were serving food and had expanded the menu to include hot dogs, fried chicken and french fries. Also added in 1959 was a double deck hamburger called “Fat Boy,” as well as a “Foot Long” hot dog. A student from Georgia Tech came up with the name “Chubby Decker,” which was named with a then-popular rock and roll singer, Chubby Checker, in mind. The name stuck and it is still the most popular food item at Zesto.

Eventually the location in Winston-Salem was shuttered after falling into the hands of bad management, which left a big hole in the available restaurant options in East Winston-Salem.
About a year and half ago, I organized an investor group to acquire the licensing rights for Zesto, so that we could expand the iconic concept through franchising. Our growth plan calls for 50 new locations in North Carolina with additional stores opening throughout the mid-Atlantic region within 10 years.

We also modernized the 70-year old fast casual brand with new menu items, higher quality ingredients, customer loyalty programs, technology and a strong online presence.

Two years ago, a good friend contacted me about the vacant Church’s Chicken building located at 2600 New Walkertown Road. The store was abruptly closed by corporate after repeatedly failing to meet quality standards. Not to mention the building was falling apart due to a long list of deferred maintenance.

About a year ago, I organized a group of investors to purchase the building, so that we could open Zesto. They eventually backed out. But thankfully Goler Community Development Corporation with support from the City of Winston-Salem agreed to acquire and redevelop the building. Goler CDC also bought the first Zesto franchise to return to North Carolina.
Zesto Burgers & Ice Cream officially opened for business this week at the newly remodeled building on New Walkertown Road and created 32 permanent jobs in the process, not including 40 temporary jobs during construction. Undoubtedly bringing a new option to a community badly in need of more places to dine.

We hope you will stop by, grab a burger and try our legendary ice cream. Bring a friend 🙂

Algenon Cash is a nationally recognized speaker and the managing director of Wharton Gladden & Company, an investment-banking firm. Reach him at

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