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About Utah: Fry sauce and Arctic Circle hit big 6-0

Published: Monday, March 8 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Arctic Circle, the Utah-based hamburger chain that can trace its roots back almost as far as McDonald's, turns 60 this year.

Leaders of the restaurant group have launched a major ad campaign and are planning a number of celebrations to commemorate turning the big six-oh.

But to really give the fast food outfit its due, the governor needs to designate an Arctic Circle Day.

On that day, at high noon, every Utahn should stop what they're doing, select the french fry of their choice and dip it in some fry sauce.

Because no matter how old it gets and no matter what else Arctic Circle can lay claim to — and when you research its history, it's quite an innovative business — it all pales compared to fry sauce.

Consider Utah's great contributions to mankind:

Natural Wonder: Delicate Arch.

Recreational Wonder: powder snow.

Sports Wonder: Stockton to Malone.

Culinary Wonder: Fry sauce.

And Arctic Circle invented it.

As with many Earth-changing events, the exact date fry sauce came to be is murky.

It was sometime in the early 1950s, not long after Don Carlos Edwards, a native Utahn who was born in Logan, opened his first Arctic Circle on 900 South and Main Street in Salt Lake City.

At this point Don Carlos was no stranger to cooking hamburgers, hot dogs and french fries. He started as a young man in 1924 when he hooked up a food trailer to his truck and transported it to carnivals and fairs. In 1941 he opened the popular Don Carlos Bar-B-Q restaurant on 900 South and State Street in Salt Lake (an Arctic Circle still occupies that space).

Then in 1950, just two years after brothers Dick and Mac McDonald transformed their restaurant in San Bernardino, Calif., into a burger-and-fries joint with "speedee service," he opened his first burger-and-fries place a block away on Main Street.

Don Carlos concocted a signature sauce for his hamburgers made up of ketchup, mayonnaise, a little garlic and other spices. He called it pink sauce.

One day as he was cooking he happened to dip a french fry in the pink sauce.

No one recorded his reaction, but let's assume it was WOW!

He asked a friend to try it. Then he asked some customers. Their reaction was the same as his.

After tinkering a bit with the recipe, he began offering it to customers with their fries.

Today, all sorts of Utah restaurants serve fry sauce, as do places around the world where zealots have spread Utah's contribution to culinary refinement. But Arctic Circle fry sauce is the original.

Six decades later the recipe remains a closely guarded secret.

"I can tell you this, it's a lot more than just ketchup and mayo," says Gary Roberts, president and CEO of Arctic Circle Restaurants.

Every day, Roberts proudly notes, the various Arctic Circle outlets — there are 78 franchises in six Western states — go through 120 gallons of Original Fry Sauce. In contrast, they go through 10 gallons of ketchup.

For its 60th birthday celebrations, Arctic Circle is also trumpeting its other innovations.

It lays claim to having invented the kid's meal when it began adding a toy and special box for children's orders in the 1950s. And its Brown Topper — an ice cream cone dipped in chocolate and nuts — dates back to when Don Carlos Edwards was pulling his food stand from carnival to carnival.

Plus it was the first fast food chain to exclusively use Black Angus beef in its burgers and halibut in its fish sandwiches and fish-and-chips.

But what makes the chain immortal is fry sauce. That's its claim to fame. Its triumph de cuisine. Next time you dip, wish them many happy returns.

Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com

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