Robert Falkenburg (born January 29, 1926) is a former American amateur tennis player and entrepreneur. He is best known for winning the Men's Singles at the 1948 Wimbledon Championships and for introducing soft ice cream and American fast food to Brazil in 1952. He is the founder of the Brazilian fast food chain "Bob's."
Falkenburg was born in New York City on January 29, 1926 and grew up in Los Angeles, California in a tennis playing family. His parents, Eugene "Genie" Lincoln Falkenburg (an engineer involved in the construction of the Hoover Dam) and Marguerite "Mickey" Crooks Falkenburg were amateur tennis players. While employed by Westinghouse, Eugene was transferred to South America, where he moved with his wife and three children to São Paulo, Brazil. There Mickey won the state tennis championship in 1927. Mickey was always involved in tennis. In The Game: My 40 Years in Tennis, tennis champion Jack Kramer wrote that Mickey Falkenburg was "the first person to ever suggest to him the idea of a team-tennis league," a league which he later created. Bob's sister, Jinx Falkenburg, a famous American film star/model was also an amateur tennis player and his brother Tom had a successful tennis career as well.
Falkenburg started to play tennis in 1936 when he was 10 years old. Like other players from Southern California, he frequently played at The Los Angeles Tennis Club in Hollywood, which was located very close to the family home. Bob also played at the Bel-Air Country Club, where he won the junior tennis tournament in 1937. As a youngster he participated in different tournaments around the city.
In 1942 and 1943 while attending Fairfax High School, Falkenburg won the National Interscholastic singles title and won the national doubles title with his brother, Tom. In 1943, Bob became the Los Angeles city singles title holder. The following year he claimed the United States doubles crown with Don McNeill at Forest Hills, New York. In 1943 Bob became one of the youngest players to enter the US Top 10 amateur ranks. He remained in the US Top 10 for 5 years, whilst he was ranked as high as World No. 7 by John Olliff of The Daily Telegraph.
From 1944 to 1945, during World War II Falkenburg served in the military as an air cadet. Being enlisted in the service, however, did not put a complete halt to his tennis career and he continued to occasionally play while in the Air Force. In 1946, while attending the University of Southern California, he won the NCAA singles and doubles titles. He teamed again with his brother Tom to capture that NCAA doubles final.
Bob was very agile and was known for his powerful serves. At the age of 20 he was considered to have "the fastest serve in tennis." After marrying a Brazilian, he moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1950, where he played on the 1954 and 1955 Brazilian Davis Cup teams.
In 1947 he paired with Jack Kramer and together they won the Wimbledon doubles title. A year later, in 1948, Falkenburg reached the pinnacle of his tennis career by winning the Wimbledon singles championship. He won the acclaimed tennis crown, after winning 3 of 5 sets against Australian John Bromwich, who after having taken the fourth set, was confident he would beat Falkenburg. Bromwich had a match point at 5-3 in the fifth set, but Falkenburg fought his way back and did something that tennis players rarely do; he saved three match points and went on to win 7-5 in the fifth set. Falkenburg won Wimbledon because he was not only a great tennis player, but a great strategist. Fellow tennis player Tom Brown, who was a runner up in the 1947 Wimbledon Championships described Falkenburg's competitive approach, "He would review the situation, figure out what was likely, and take chances."
Falkenburg has been inducted into numerous Halls of Fame, including the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1974, the Intercollegiate Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985, the Fairfax High School Hall of Fame in 1999, the USC Hall of Fame in 2009 and the Southern California Tennis Association Hall of Fame in 2010.
Falkenburg was offered a $100,000-a-year professional tennis contract. He turned it down, however, and instead decided to open an ice cream and fast food business in Brazil. With $10,000 and a few ice cream machines he brought from the United States, he was set to open his ice cream shop. It was not easy for him to start his business. He encountered numerous import restrictions, as the Brazilian government would not allow him to import the ingredients to make soft ice cream. He then figured out how to make his own ice cream mixes and toppings. Facing many obstacles to open his business in Rio de Janeiro, Falkenburg never gave up on his idea. Very soon after opening the first ice cream shop near the famed Copacabana beach front in 1952, his business became a huge success. Falkenburg was the first person to introduce soft ice cream to Brazil.
A year later, the ice cream shop became a fast food restaurant. The restaurant, called "Bob's," was the first fast food restaurant in South America. Bob's menu includes traditional American food such as hamburgers, hot dogs, milkshakes and sundaes. Because it offered new tastes and a modern look, Bob's became a hit with the Brazilian glitterati, making Bob's the most prosperous food business in Brazil and giving Falkenburg earnings far greater than what he would have made as a professional tennis player. Today, Bob's has over 1,000 locations in Brazil, as well as franchises in 4 other countries.
Falkenburg not only found success on the tennis court and fast food industry, but he also had a successful amateur golf career. He played in many international golf championships and won the Brazilian amateur championship three times. He took part in renowned golf tournaments including the Bob Hope Desert Classic, where his team won in 1967; the Bing Crosby Pro-Am in Pebble Beach, where he played several times; the Eisenhower Cup, where he played for Brazil in Rome in 1964, Mexico City in 1966 and Melbourne in 1968; and the British Amateur Golf Championship, where he led the American contingent on the first qualifying round after having a hole-in-one at Carnoustie, Scotland. Bob had a total of 14 holes-in-one during his life. He also participated as an amateur in various European golf championships in France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and several Scandinavian countries.
In 1970 the Falkenburgs moved back to Southern California and, in 1974 at the age of 48, he sold the "Bob's" chain (which at the time had 12 stores) to Libby of Brazil (later acquired by Nestlé). Retired in Los Angeles, Bob spent a lot of time playing golf at the Bel-Air Country Club, where he would often play with former Laker player and good friend Jerry West and others. Later Falkenburg went on to become the president of the club. He and his wife currently reside in Santa Ynez, California.
|Winner||1948||Wimbledon||Grass||John Bromwich||7–5, 0–6, 6–2, 3–6, 7–5|
|Winner||1944||U.S. Championships||Grass||Don McNeill|| Pancho Segura
|7–5, 6–4, 3–6, 6–1|
|Runner-up||1945||U.S. Championships||Grass||Jack Tuero|| Gardnar Mulloy
|10–12, 10–8, 10–12, 2–6|
|Winner||1947||Wimbledon||Grass||Jack Kramer|| Tony Mottram
|8–6, 6–3, 6–3|
|Grand Slam Tournaments|