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20 Iconic Restaurant Chains That No Longer Exist In America

Restaurant franchises have become a major part of American consumer culture in the last several decades. So let's check some iconic restaurant chains that might be historically rooted in your mind.

1. Howard Johnson's

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Howard Johnson's company started in the 1920s and made a quick development over the next forty years. You could find more than 1,000 of its restaurant or hotel chains distributed along American highways by the 1960s. However, the chain gradually died. As of 2017, there was only one Howard Johnson's still in business.

2. Sambo's

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In 1957, the first Sambo's restaurant was opened, owned by Sam Battistone and Newell F. Bohnet. The chain developed into a large business with 1,000 locations but finally shut down in the '80s because of its controversial name. The name was actually the founders' last names, but it was thought to be a derogatory term for African Americans.

3. Minnie Pearl's Chicken

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In the 1960s, country singer Pearl teamed with businessman John Jay Hooker to launch a chain of restaurants bearing her name: Minnie Pearl's Chicken. The chain achieved quick success with 500 locations at its peak but crashed back to earth within a few years due to it’s incohesive menu and bland recipes. 

4. Kenny Rogers' Roasters

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Country singer Kenny Rogers worked with his business partner John Y. Brown to launch this chicken chain in 1990. Although the food was popular, the chain only lasted for about eight years. The restaurants were sold off to Nathan's in 1998. Today, we can witness the chain's past prosperity in a classic episode of the sitcom Seinfeld.

5. The All-American Burger

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The Southern California All-American Burger chain became famous when it was used as a set in the hit 80s teen film Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The final location on the west coast closed in 2010, while chains with the same names and logos on the east coast are still serving up delicious burgers to this day. 

6. Chi-Chi's

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Marno McDermitt and NFL star Max McGee launched Chi-Chi's in the 1970s. The chain developed quickly after introducing a rudimentary menu of Mexican-style food to many American towns but eventually died out because of the appearance of fierce competition with other Mexican eateries. It entirely died out in 2003 when a Hepatitis outbreak in the food supply led to three customers’ deaths.

7. White Tower

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White Tower, created by John E. Saxe and his son Thomas in 1921, is one of White Castle's imitators. It copied Castle's menu, style, advertising, and even architecture. The White Tower reached its height when there were 230 locations, but it died after being forced to make significant changes after the legal action by White Castle. 

8. Steak And Ale 

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Steak and Ale achieved immense success because of its established concept of running a cheap steak and salad bar. However, it turned to dust after more and more companies that adopted this model and improved upon it sprung up. The chain's final store closed in the early 2010s. Luckily, Bennigans purchased the Steak and Ale's name and redefined it as a 21st Century polished-casual concept, which has brought the chain to life.

9. Lum's

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Brothers Clifford and Stuart Pearlman established Lum's in 1956. The chain's distinctive hot dogs and glass-doored storefronts helped it reach to its height of 400 locations at one point. Stuart Pearlman sold the chain to KFC for $4 million, and the final Lum's closed in 2009.

10. Gino's Hamburgers

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Football Hall of Famer Gino Marchetti established Gino's Hamburgers in 1957, and it had over 300 locations by the 70s. However, in the early 1980s, Marchetti sold the chain to Marriott, and the hotel chain turned all the Gino's into Roy Rogers. In 2010, Marchetti reopened a new Gino's location after he returned to the restaurant business.

11. Valle's Steak House

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Valle's Steak House was a chain operated on the East Coast of the United States from 1933 to 2000. The chain's menu focused on steaks and lobsters. The weak economy that followed the 1970s gas crisis led to its demise.

12. Mr. Steak

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Mr. Steak came into fashion in the 70s and reached its peak with around 300 stores across the U.S. However, it failed to compete with burgeoning steakhouse chains like Sizzler and Stuart Anderson's Black Angus and was finally doomed to failure in 1987.

13. Burger Chef

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Did you know there was a burger chain that once even rivaled McDonald's? It was Burger Chef and it had over 1,000 stores at one time. It served fast-food staples to the industry, including kids' meals with toys. The chain finally died out due to corrupt business practices, and it was sold to Hardee's in 1981.

14. Bob's Big Boy

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Bob's Big Boy featured double-decker burgers and had an iconic mascot, which became a staple of American highways in the 20th century. Today, there are still about 100 locations of the chain in California and the Midwest. 

15. Charlie Brown's Steakhouse

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Founded in 1966, Charlie Brown's Steakhouse was a fast-growing regional chain out of New Jersey. The chain featured the prime rib and the house salad. It filed for bankruptcy in November 2010 and is currently owned by Praesidian Capital.

16. Bennigan's

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As one of America's first casual dining and sports bar chains, Bennigan's was left behind by its contemporary rivals such as Friday's, Applebee's, and Chili's. The chain filed for bankruptcy in 2008. As of 2018, the new ownership of Bennigan's kept 33 locations open in the U.S.

17. Naugles

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Naugles was well known for its charming motto: "Prepare food fresh. Serve customers fast. Keep place clean!" It was a Mexican fast-food that ran for about 25 years from 1970-1995. By the mid-80s, it had 225 stores. However, in 1995, the final store was shut down, and the chain turned to dust. In 2015, entrepreneur Christian Ziebarth revived the restaurant, and there are now two locations in California.

18. Druther's

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Druther's, also known as Burger Queen, was a chain of fast-food restaurants that started in Winter Haven, Florida, in 1956. It was then based in Louisville, Kentucky, from 1963 until 1981. Its mascot was a giant bee named Queenie Bee. There remains only one Druther's in Campbellsville, Kentucky.

19. Pup 'N' Taco

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The first Pup 'N' Taco opened in 1965, and it achieved quick success with 62 stores by 1973. The chain was well known for its diverse menu, which meant that customers could choose tacos, hamburgers, hot dogs, and even pastrami sandwiches. In 1984, Taco Bell bought 99 Pup 'N' Taco restaurants in California, which effectively ended the chain. However, three stores in New Mexico were not included in the deal, and two of them existed until the 2010s.

20. Henry's Hamburgers

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In the 1950s, Henry's Hamburgers was attempting to mimic the success of McDonald's. It became a major player till the 70s, and had over 200 locations by the early 60s, which exceeded McDonald's at the time. Many factors, including failure to adapt to the industry's changes, and a controversy involving the use of horse meat led to the chain's rapid death. 

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