35 Classic Fast Food Restaurants That No Longer Exist (But We Wish They Did)
The places we went and the food we ate as a child have created some of our strongest memories. Who could forget the excitement as a child of heading out to your favorite burger joint or getting treated to some guilty-pleasure fast food? If you haven’t noticed, a lot of once-huge restaurants from the past aren’t around anymore. The places that are around nowadays can’t replace the restaurants we had grown to know and love. Businesses may come and go but the following will never be forgotten. Read on to take a walk down memory lane and rediscover some restaurants that are no longer around.
1. Beefsteak Charlie’s
Beefsteak Charlie’s was a chain of restaurants that started in Manhattan and grew to fame in the 1910s. They just loved to spoil their customers — maybe a little too much so, seeing as it became one of the reasons they couldn’t pull a profit.
The chain’s slogan was “You’re gonna get spoiled” and that is what they stuck to. The now-defunct restaurant offered all you can eat shrimps and salad, as well as alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine and sangria. Unfortunately, all the unlimited booze hit Beefsteak Charlie’s right where they hurt: in the wallet and by 2010, all locations had closed.
2. Howard Johnson’s
During the heyday of Howard Johnson’s, sometimes lovingly just referred to as HoJo’s, there were over 1,000 locations nationwide. In fact, it was the largest chain of restaurants during the 1960s and 1970s. The chain of restaurants was known for its iconic buildings, including orange roofs, peaks and weather vanes.
Howard Johnson restaurants quickly started to fall behind its competitors in the fast food business, and its dinner-style restaurants didn’t leave much room for innovation and financial efficiency. “The downfall of Howard Johnson’s was ultimately their competitors. Friendly’s had their ice cream, KFC was all about fried chicken, and in comparison, HoJo’s was just too basic,” one critic stated.
3. Official All Star Café
Official All Star Café restaurants were founded in 1995 and owned by Planet Hollywood. They were able to get many sports icons of the era to invest in the company, such as Andre Agassi, Joe Montana, Ken Griffey Jr., Shaq, and Wayne Gretzky.
The restaurant chain grew to 10 locations while in its prime, including prime locations such as Times Square and Walt Disney World. Planet Hollywood attempted to make the restaurants sports-themed, much like its Hard Rock Café chains, but they didn’t last long. The last of the All Star Café locations closed in 2007.
If you’re from the Northwest then you probably remember VIP’s. The Oregon-based chain of restaurants was very popular starting in 1968. At one point it was the largest restaurant chain based in the state and had 53 locations during its heyday.
At the time, the locations were referred to as coffee shops, but today we would refer to them as diners, similar to Denny’s. The company was known for having its locations located near freeways. VIP’s started going under in the early ’80s and actually sold 35 of their locations to Denny’s Inc.
5. Horn & Hardart
Horn & Hardart stands out from the rest of the restaurants on this list being that they weren’t just restaurants. They were automated fast food joints, known as “automats”. At this restaurant you could purchase prepared food from behind a glass window, kind of like a giant vending machine.
You just needed to insert the proper amount of coins in the machine and pull a lever to take out the freshly-made food. Sadly the last location closed in 1991. However, similar automat restaurants exist today in other parts of the world, like Europe and Japan.
6. Burger Chef
Burger Chef was a chain of hamburger restaurants founded by General Electric in Indianapolis in 1954. At its peak it had over 1,200 locations nationwide. So what happened to Burger Chef? Well, let’s just say that their biggest competitor was McDonalds…
The fast food chain ended up over expanding in locations and declining in quality, eventually losing out to McDonalds. The chain was then sold off to General Foods and then sold off again. Most of the locations were eventually turned into Hardee’s.
Isaly’s was founded way back in the 19th century and they certainly left their mark on American history. Not only was the restaurant known for its chipped chopped ham, it was also famous for inventing the Klondike Bar. Wow!
The name of the restaurants was named after the founder, but in advertisements, it stood for “I Shall Always Love You Sweetheart.” In the later years the company was sold off a few times until it slowly it died out, along with the good ol’ days.
The family restaurant Lum’s was opened in Miami Beach in 1956 as a hot dog stand then slowly grew. By 1961 they had four locations. They were best known for their beer-steamed hotdogs. Then they rapidly expanded their business.
By the year 1969 Lum’s had over 400 company-owned or franchised restaurants, including in Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Europe. The company, however, overextended their reach and ended up filing for bankruptcy. All of the original stores closed by 1982.
9. Steak and Ale
Steak and Ale was founded in 1966 in Dallas, Texas and it offered diners a new type of restaurant to dine at. It was branded as a cheap and affordable steak restaurant and became very popular, especially among business people.
Steak and Ale offered cheap steaks and a salad bar. In an attempt to keep up with the competition they lowered their prices and started offering free beverages and dessert. In the end they weren’t able to keep up with the competition, though and the last location was closed in 2008. However, in early 2017, Steak and Ale’s parent company began offering franchise opportunities again…so a revival might be underway.
10. White Tower
Along with the success of White Castle, came imitators. White Castle was founded in 1921, then in 1922 along came White Tower. You might be thinking, “oh, they just have white in the name,” but that wasn’t all they took from White Castle.
The fast food restaurant chain White Tower took just about everything except the kitchen sink. And that was nailed down. No, White Tower took the menu, the style, the advertising methods and even the building architecture. So, pretty much everything. There were 230 locations in the 1950s, but many closed due to legal action against them. The very last location closed in 2004.
Schrafft’s started as a simple candy store in the New York area in 1898 and slowly grew from there. Pretty soon they were a full-fledged restaurant with multiple locations. In fact, Schrafft’s was one of the few restaurants to allow unescorted women.
By 1937, there were at least 43 Schrafft’s locations on the East Coast, mostly in New York City, but also in Boston and Philadelphia, until fading out completely by the early 1980s. Read on to take a walk down memory lane and remember more restaurants you grew up with.
12. Red Barn
The Red Barn restaurant was known for its, well, red barns. The locations looked like barns and the exterior walls were painted red. The design proved popular, seeing as customers could never mistake the Red Barn for any other restaurant in the game.
During the Red Barn’s prime, it had over 400 locations in the US and abroad. There is currently only one location left in Racine, Wisconsin, though its name is now The Farm. Read on to find out what other defunct restaurant chains are no longer around.
13. Minnie Pearl’s Chicken
Minnie Pearl’s Chicken was a line of fast food chicken restaurants established to compete with KFC. The venture was co-founded along with entrepreneur John Jay Hooker and the famous country singer Minnie Pearl allowed them to use her name. Initial estimates calculated huge success in the chicken business.
At one point there were over 500 Minnie Pearl’s Chicken restaurants around the country. But everything soon came crashing down. With a lack of a cohesive menu or recipes, the entire business venture collapsed in on itself.
14. Gino’s Hamburgers
As their saying went, “Everybody goes to Gino’s,” and if you were around during the 1960s and 1970s then you too probably went to Gino’s too. The fast food restaurant chain was opened by football hall of famer Gino Marchetti in 1957.
The hamburger chain quickly grew to over 300 locations, mostly on the East Coast. Gino’s opened locations in the Midwest as well, but these were unfortunately short-lived. The chain was eventually sold to Marriott, which converted all Gino’s locations into Roy Rogers restaurants.
Sambo’s was a pancake house that started in 1957 and quickly grew on the West Coast. By the late 1970s, there were over 1,100 locations open. Controversy surrounding the restaurant’s name started when the chain began to spread to the Northeast.
The name “Sambo” is actually a derogatory term. While the owners claimed that the name was a derivative of the owner’s names combined, people weren’t buying it, or their pancakes. The business went bankrupt and attempted to rebrand themselves multiple times before shutting down completely. One very last Sambo’s location can be found in Santa Barbara, Calif.
The Georgia-based hamburger chain named D’Lites was founded in 1978 and within less than a decade, they had already grown to over 100 locations. But unfortunately, their success was very short-lived. And it mostly had to do with not offering healthier food options.
Competing chains, such as McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s, started to offer healthier food choices. This put them ahead of those who weren’t offering any alternative, like D’Lites. The company eventually ran into the ground and all their locations either closed or changed their names.
17. Henry’s Hamburgers
Henry’s Hamburgers was opened by an ice cream company to expand on their shakes and malts. Henry’s was modeled after McDonald’s, even though they were a competitor at the time. They offered ten hamburgers for as low as a dollar.
Henry’s Hamburgers was big during the 1960s but started to decline in the 1970s. Their main issue was that they just couldn’t compete with their other fast food competitors. Henry’s didn’t have a drive-in and also didn’t diversify their menu. There is only one location left in Benton Harbor, MI.
Sandy’s was a burger restaurant that started in central Illinois. The four owners actually set out to start opening McDonald’s franchises but due to the area they were trying to open them, they would have had to pay higher fees.
So the four businessmen settled on just opening a new chain of burger joints, imitating McDonald’s. The venture only lasted about 20 years before the competition took over and Sandy’s closed. They just weren’t able to compete with the TV advertising like the bigger fast food restaurants could.
The name Wimpy was inspired by the Popeye’s character of the same name. The company was started by Edward Gold in 1934 in Bloomington, Indiana. The chain quickly expanded into a massive 1,500 locations worldwide. But then something terrible happened.
Shortly after the death of the owner, all the Wimpy locations in the United States started to vanish. The reason was that no one had purchased the rights and trademark from Gold’s estate after his death. So legally no one owns the Wimpy name in the US. There are, however, locations still open in the UK.
You might find this next fast food restaurant very similar to a few of the others, with its slogans of “Look for the Orange Circles,” and “Buy a bagful.” Both were very similar to the slogans of McDonald’s (“Look for the Golden Arches”) and White Castle’s (“Buy ‘em by the sack”). Wetson’s even had two clown mascots, similar to McDonald’s.
Also the colors and odd architecture are reminiscent of Whataburger. At Wetson’s peak, they had around 70 locations. It was named after its founder Herbert Wetanson. The company eventually merged with hot dog chain Nathan’s Famous in 1975 and the brand was shut down.
Childs was a restaurant chain in the US and Canada that was founded in New York City in 1889. It was named after the founder Samuel Childs. The company peaked in success during the 1920s and 1930s.
Childs heralded around 125 different locations and served over 50 million meals each year. At the time, they were raking in the cash. Many of the more notable locations of Childs restaurants had a nautical theme. The company went bankrupt in the 1940s but continued operating and was later turned into the Hotel Corporation of America. In the ’60s, the restaurant locations were sold off to other companies.
Naugles was a chain of tex-mex restaurants in Southern California, established in 1970 in Riverside. The company’s slogan was “Prepare food fresh. Serve customer fast. Keep place clean!” What more could a customer ask for from a restaurant?
The chain ended up merging with Del Taco, which resulted in most locations changing from Naugles to Del Taco. Today, there are only two locations still open, serving the areas of Fountain Valley and Huntington Beach, California.
23. Casa Bonita
If you were looking for some good food and some good entertainment then Casa Bonita was definitely on your route starting in the late ’60s, but only in a few select locations. Casa Bonita was a Mexican restaurant that entertained you while you ate, also known as “eatertainment.”
Casa Bonita had locations in Oklahoma City and Tulsa as well as in Lakewood, Colorado. There is currently only one location left open, in Lakewood, but it is now operating under a different name. The restaurant became commonly known after an episode of South Park, named “Casa Bonita,” aired.
Chi-Chi’s opened its first location in 1975 and by March of 1995 had 210 locations. The Mexican-restaurant’s slogan was “A celebration of food,” then later “Life always needs a little salsa.” The company fell on hard times after a Hepatitis A outbreak at one of their locations.
The outbreak was responsible for killing at least four people and the company never recovered. Their real estate was sold off to Outback Steakhouse which in turn sold them off to other companies. Chi Chi’s is currently still operating a few locations in Belgium, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait.
25. House of Pies
The Original House of Pies was a chain of restaurants that was founded in 1965 and they offered just about any kind of pie you could ever imagine or want. But sadly in 1986 the franchise started going south and filed for bankruptcy.
The House of Pies was founded by Al Lapin Jr., who was also responsible for starting the International House of Pancakes. Nowadays, there are only a handful of the Original House of Pies still operating, all in the Houston and Los Angeles areas.
26. Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse
Charlie Brown’s started as a casual dining chain in New Jersey in 1966. The chain grew quite large, regionally, during the 1980s and 1990s. Then, unfortunately, the business started going under and closed 47 of its locations as part of its restructuring plan.
Charlie Brown’s is now owned by another company and there are still a few Charlie Brown’s locations around today, mainly in New Jersey with a few locations in New York State. The original company was bought for $9.5 million by a private-equity company in New York.
The Irish restaurant Bennigan’s was founded in 1976 and was established in Atlanta, Georgia. The idea for the chain came from Norman Brinker, vice president of Steak and Ale. Brinker led an exodus from the company in 1983 and those who left with him went on to create Chili’s.
Bennigan’s suffered due to a lack of brand loyalty, with numerous other restaurants featuring the same style and menu. Slowly, locations in the US and abroad began to close. Currently, there are only around 23 locations left in the US.
28. Kenny Rogers Roasters
Kenny Rogers Roasters opened their very first restaurant in 1991 in Coral Springs, Florida. By 1995, the country music star’s restaurants totaled over 350 locations. Its popularity was due in part to a Seinfeld episode in which Kramer develops an obsession for their chicken.
Unfortunately, all of the Kenny Rogers Roasters chains in the United States and Canada closed down by 2011, but the chain is actually still doing well in many parts of Asia. There are still 156 locations open worldwide, although Kenny Rogers is no longer involved with the restaurants.
29. Ponderosa and Bonanza Steakhouses
Ponderosa and Bonanza Steakhouses became popular due to the hit classic TV show Bonanza. The menu at the locations included steaks, seafood and chicken entrees, which all came with a side buffet. Meals certainly were hardy on the Ponderosa.
During the chain’s height, there were over 600 different locations of Ponderosa and Bonanza Steakhouses, collectively. Then the owner sold the business. Now, both chains are owned by the same company and there are only about 20 locations still open.
30. Bob’s Big Boy
Bob’s Big Boy restaurants became an iconic symbol of America in the 20th century with its memorable Big Boy statues. The chains dotted freeways around the country. At the company’s height, there were over 200 different locations.
The chain, Bob’s Big Boy, was known for its Big Boy hamburgers which included two hamburger patties and a bun sliced into thirds. These days, there are still 80 Bob’s Big Boy burger joints operational, with most in Michigan and a few in Southern California.
31. Royal Castle
Royal Castle was one of those burger joints that really gave you the mom and pop feel. They were famous for their mini hamburgers, similar to those at White Castle. Royal Castle’s motto was “Fit for a king!”
The restaurants started in Miami, Florida and quickly spread to Georgia, Ohio and Louisiana. At their height, they had 175 locations. They even served breakfast and ‘squeezed to order’ orange juice! You just can’t find service like that these days. But you’re in luck! There is still one location open in Miami if you’re in the area.
32. Pup ‘N’ Taco
Pup ‘N’ Taco was a chain that started in Southern California and specialized in tacos, hot dogs and pastrami sandwiches. The very first branch opened in Pasadena in 1965 and by 1973 there were 62 Pup ‘N’ Taco chains in the state.
The restaurants were known for their prime locations which helped attract customers, but the real estate prices overwhelmed the company. The chain was eventually sold to Taco Bell back in 1984, but it will forever remain in our hearts. Some of the last few franchised locations were called “Pop ‘n’ Taco.”
33. Mighty Casey’s
Might Casey’s was a wildly popular fast food restaurant chain in Atlanta, Georgia, in fact, people from all over the metro area came to eat there. They were known for their quality fast food and creative menu options, such as hamburgers, chopped BBQ sandwiches, Cajun wings and Frankfurters.
The restaurant chain was started in 1980 and their restaurants were bought-out by another fast food chain, Krystal, in 1994. Read on to find out some more popular restaurant chains that no longer exists, but we sure wish they did.
34. Yankee Doodle Dandy
Yankee Doodle Dandy was a hamburger chain that was started in 1966 by Chris and Bill Proyce, brothers. And then just ten years later the chain exploded in the Chicago area, there were at least 27 locations, most of them franchised, at their height.
The restaurants were known for their red, white and blue motifs. But, reportedly, the brothers wanted out of fast food to pursue another dream of theirs, a sit-down restaurant. Slowly, the Yankee Doodle Dandy locations were closed, then in 1988, the brothers opened four of their own casual dining restaurants called Bailey’s Restaurant & Bar.
35. La Petite Boulangerie
La Petite Boulangerie, or “The Little Bakery” in French, was an American chain that started off with only two stores in 1977. Then it was purchased by PepsiCo and franchised out, from there chains started popping up everywhere.
At the peak of La Petite Boulangerie’s success, they had 140 locations nationwide. Then they were bought out by Mrs. Fields Original Cookies Inc and ended up trading hands a few times until they were finally acquired by Java City. There were no longer any La Petite Boulangerie locations by the end of 2000.
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