These Classic Restaurant Chains That Were All The Rage Are Still Serving Your Favorites
Maybe it was that one specific place you went with your parents at the end of the school week, or maybe it was that special place you went for date night with your high school sweetheart, but some restaurant chains just have a way of sticking in our minds. But don’t give up hope! There many on be one location left, but these restaurant chains are still serving up your favorites! Here we take a trip down memory lane to the restaurant chains of your childhood that may be down but they’re not out! You can still share a soda with your sweetheart at your favorite spot,
1. Howard Johnson’s
You were driving down the highway, children screaming in the back seat, and then, like a beautiful sunset was the bright orange shingled roof of a Howard Johnson’s Restaurant. You could almost already taste the promise of a hot coffee for yourself, and a signature orange-colored milkshake for the kiddos. But where have all the Hojos gone?
Once the largest restaurant chain in the United States, the 1960s and ’70s were Hojo’s heyday, with over 1,000 locations. The franchise was so popular it was included in an episode of Mad Men to help make the show feel true to the times. These days there’s just one man standing, with the last remaining Howard Johnson’s operating in Lake George, New York.
2. Shakey’s Pizza Parlor & Ye Public House
Established by Sherwood “Shakey” Johnson and his partner Ed Plummer, Shakey’s Pizza Parlor & Ye Public House first opened in 1954. One of America’s first-ever pizza chain, it became a real family favorite by the early ’70s. These days, however, Shakey’s is shakin’ up the pizza biz elsewhere.
At its peak pizza popularity, there were 272 locations across the U.S. Capitalizing on its success, Shakey’s Pizza also went overseas, and currently calls the Philippines it’s MVPP (Most Valuable Pizza Player) with more than double the number of Shakey’s remaining in the U.S. (49 of the 51 Stateside are in California). Shakey’s motto, “We serve fun at Shakey’s…also pizza” is still true today – as long as you’re in California or the Philippines.
Who doesn’t remember the frozen yogurt craze of the ’90s? There were shops popping up everywhere, each with a whole slew of toppings, but there was only one TCBY, and it seemed to be living up to its name of ‘The Country’s Best Yogurt.’ By 2001 there were 1,777 TCBY locations across the country, but the market for frozen yogurt has apparently melted.
While you can still find some TCBYs around town, by 2011 77.2% of the shops had closed. While there is some icy competition in the frozen yogurt biz, the froyo fad seems to be on a downswing, with other dessert trends taking top treat. But when taste buds turn back around to TCBY, it’s ready.
4. The Ground Round
Started by Howard Johnson’s in 1969, The Ground Round was once the place for children’s parties – and with good reason! They showed silent movies and cartoons while Bingo the Clown played and passed out whole peanuts. People were free to drop their peanut shells on the floor, no fuss over a little muss at The Ground Round!
Or maybe it was all about the muss and fuss, because by 2004 The Ground Round filed for bankruptcy and closed 59 of their locations. But have no fear! A troupe of Ground Round groupies have gathered to save the former family favorite. If you’ve ever wanted to eat in a pit of peanuts, there are still 22 Ground Rounds locations standing.
5. Rainforest Cafe
Let’s take a trip to the tropics, to a place with talking trees, wishing ponds, and the occasional rain shower – that’s right, we’re going to the Rainforest Cafe! Famous for its elaborate rainforest themed décor and ambient animal noises, the Rainforest Cafe was one of the wildest restaurants to come out of the ’90s.
Diners could sup on spaghetti next to a cast of animatronic characters known as “the Wild Bunch,” including Cha! Cha! the red eye tree frog, Tuki the elephant, and others. As of late, it seems that customers haven’t been so wild for the “Wild Bunch” as only 24 locations remain. But if you’ve ever wanted to eat next to an elephant, the Rainforest Cafe is for you.
6. Planet Hollywood
The ’90s were all about themed dining, which is when Planet Hollywood came on the scene, backed by the biggest celebrities of the day, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Demi Moore and Arnold Schwarzenegger. If Schwarzenegger and Sly say it’s good, who’s going to argue?
Famous fans of the restaurant hopped on board the ship to Planet Hollywood, like Whoopi Goldberg, Don Johnson, Melanie Griffith, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Wesley Snipes and more, endorsing the A-list themed eatery. Still, this star powered supernova burned out with two bankruptcies by the end of the decade. There are still nine branches in operation, so maybe it’s time to take a tip from The Terminator and snack with the stars at Planet Hollywood.
7. Bob’s Big Boy
Starting out in 1936 as Bob’s Pantry, Robert “Bob” Wian built up Bob’s Big Boy over the following decades. While there are only five Big Boys left to abate your burger cravings, Bob made a seriously important contribution to the burger biz – the double decker burger!
Six months after Bob’s Pantry opened, a customer asked for something new – as a joke, Bob sliced a burger bun into three, and placed two patties in between, and – tada! The double-decker burger was born. But what to call it? Soon after, a little boy came in to Bob’s and Wian said, “Hello, Big Boy.” It was then that the name came to be, and that little boy? He became the Big Boy mascot!
8. Roy Rogers
Born out of the Big Boy restaurant franchise, RoBee’s House of Beef opened in the late ’60s. By 1968, RoBee’s became Roy Rogers, after Big Boy founder Bob Wian suggested approaching singing cowboy Roy Rogers about linking up with the restaurant chain game.
Seemingly on track to ride into franchise fame with more than 100 branches and nearly 900 in the woodwork by the end of the ’60s. However, things didn’t go quite as planned. Expansion plans were put on pause time and time again, and Roy Rogers never really galloped into the ranks of restaurant royalty. There are still 54 Roy Rogers kicking around, just like the restaurant motto: “Roy Rogers rides again!”
9. Johnny Rockets
Retro-themed restaurant Johnny Rockets has been a favorite soda shoppe-style burger n’ shake spot since 1986. Johnny Rockets is famously outfitted top to bottom in 1950s vinyl glory. And to make your shake even sweeter, some locations have servers sing and shake it to a groovy track from the jukebox.
Once a staple in malls everywhere, as these center of commerce continue to see shoppers hop off their lines and increasingly turn to online retailers, Johnny Rockets has taken a not-so-hip hit. After a slew of closings, Johnny Rockets may have a plan to keep rockin’ to the oldies by partnering with a drive-in movie theater chain. Guys, grab your best gals, and sock hop on down to Johnny Rockets!
10. Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips
While the British aren’t necessarily known for their cuisine, there has always been one major exception: the classic combo of fish and chips. Opening at the tail end of the ’60s, this fast food fish fry reached a fever pitch in popularity by the ’70s, with approximately 800 locations.
These days, Anglophobes seem to be getting their British fix following their favorite Royals. Meanwhile, Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips is down to seven seafood spots. With the rise in fascination in the British Royal Family, a fish and chips spot like Arthur Treacher’s could perhaps make a comeback, so don’t say toodle-oo just yet!
11. Gino’s Hamburgers
Back when the Colts were a Baltimore team, players Gino Marchetti and Alan Ameche decided to take their teamwork off the football field and into the running of restaurants, Gino’s Hamburgers was all set to be a total touchdown. Opening in 1959, the gridiron gang’s chain of Gino’s locations were taking down yards along the East Coast.
By 1982 there were 359 Gino’s Hamburgers but after being purchased by the Marriott Group, Gino’s locations were turned into Roy Rogers restaurants (and we know how that turned out). After a revival in 2010, today only two Gino’s remain in its home state. So, if you find yourself hungry in Maryland, the company motto wants you to know: “Everybody goes to Gino’s, ’cause Gino’s is the place to go!”
12. Kenny Rogers Roasters
Founded in 1991 by, yup you guessed it, country musician Kenny Rogers (and the one-time CEO of KFC), Kenny Rogers Roasters reached roast chicken royalty status by the mid-’90s with roughly 425 restaurants around the world. Rogers’ roast chicken restaurant chain was so popular that an entire episode of Seinfeld was dedicated to it.
With the increase in fast food competition from the likes of Boston Market and Kentucky Fried Chicken, Kenny Rogers Roasters ran out of funds by 1998, filing for bankruptcy. Currently, Kenny’s chicken chain may not be roaring in the US, with only a few locations left, but after racing off to Asia, Kenny Rogers Roasters has over 140 locations overseas.
13. Tony Roma’s
Former food and beverage specialist for the Playboy Club, Tony Roma opened his eponymous restaurant in North Miami, Florida in 1972. Famous for its Tony Roma’s BBQ sauced baby back ribs, Tony Roma’s was one of the first fast food chains to go international with the opening of its rib restaurant in Tokyo in 1979.
By the early 2000s people weren’t raving about Roma’s ribs with the same enthusiasm, and just over 70% of Tony Roma’s had wrapped up the ribs and called it a day. Despite filing for bankruptcy, Tony Roma’s is still slinging its signature BBQ sauce dishes in its remaining U.S.-based restaurants, and overseas in 30 different countries.
14. York Steak House
Sometimes you just gotta go back to basics, with a good ol’ steak and potatoes – the specialty at York Steak House. Keeping it simple, York Steak House was set up like a cafeteria, hot food on one side, cold on the other, and the cashier right down the middle.
Unfortunately, York Steak House has since hit the lights and closed up shop for the most part. As of 2017, only one lone York Steak House was still serving up its signature steak and potatoes, located in Columbus Ohio. The last York Steak House has stayed true to tradition, keeping the style the same.
15. Kewpee Hamburgers
The second-ever hamburger fast food restaurant to go the way of the franchise was Kewpee Hamburgers. Founded in Flint, Michigan in 1923, Kewpee Hamburgers made its mark with square burger patties and thick malt milkshakes, and of course, its mascot – a cherubic Kewpie doll.
Kewpee Hamburgers was thriving pre-World War II, with more than 400 restaurants flipping patties for their fans, just like Kewpee’s slogan said, “Hamburg pickle on top! Makes your heart go flippity-flop!” But fans stopped flipping out for Kewpee Hamburgers by the mid ’70s, with only a handful of locations left today. The Kewpee Restaurant in Lima, Ohio is listed as a historic site – so it shouldn’t be going anywhere anytime soon!
Any ’90s kid will remember the Quiznos motto “Quiznos, Mmmm…Toasty!” from when it reached star sandwich status by the mid-aughts. Going up against Subway for sandwich supremacy, Quiznos went from 5,000 to less than a fifth of that by late 2013.
In 2014, Quiznos filed for bankruptcy, but don’t count this sandwich shop down and out! A few months later Quiznos vowed to restructure and return, and that’s exactly what it did. These days Quiznos is making a comeback with plans to continue beefing back up in the coming years. You know what they say, slow and steady wins the sandwich race!
Bennigan’s began in 1976 in Atlanta, Georgia as the Irish pub-themed dream of Norman E. Brinker, the founder of the now-defunct Steak and Ale franchise. Bennigan’s broke into the casual dining scene, making it big by the early ’80s, but the Bennigan’s bubble would unfortunately burst.
July 2008 saw Bennigan’s file for bankruptcy protection, with all 150 corporate locations closing their casual dining doors. The 138 independently-owned Bennigan’s locations stuck it out, but soon, those too would start calling it a day. But Bennigan’s can still bounce back! There are still 15 Bennigan’s keeping the Irish pub palate alive across America, and 18 international locations.
The first Sizzler was established by Del and Helen Johnson in 1958 as “Del’s Sizzler Family Steak House” in California. The late 1970s and early ’80s saw Sizzler’s steaks and salad bar stealing the show with over 200 spots across the country. But by the mid-to-late-’80s, some competition snuck onto the scene.
After the Ponderosa Steakhouse and Bonanza Steakhouse started cramping Sizzler’s style, the chain implemented a new promotion based on its successful salad bar, offering a full buffet, or “Buffet Court.” Still, Sizzler’s saw some tough times in the ’90s, with restaurant closings. But Sizzler’s is sticking it out, with over 270 locations still serving up steaks and salad bar sides.
19. Uno Pizzeria & Grill
No need for the great to-fold-or-not-to-fold your slice debate at Uno Pizzeria & Grill (formerly Pizzeria Uno, Uno Chicago Grill, and otherwise known as Unos), the only slices they serve is their famous Chicago’s deep-dish pizza. Uno’s started (surprise!) in Chicago in 1943.
Despite conflicting claims made in the Chicago Daily News in 1956, some still cite Pizzeria Uno as the originator of the deep-dish pizza Chicago’s now famous for. Uno’s started doling out the deep-dish to a wider audience after franchising in 1980, but saw some deep-dives in the 2000s. Still, Uno’s can still be found dishing their Chicago pizza in over 110 locations both nationally and internationally.
20. Bonanza Steakhouse (and Ponderosa Steakhouse)
If you were a fan of the TV show Bonanza, but didn’t make the connection – these steakhouses are definitely related to the fan favorite western. Bonanza Steakhouse was started by Dan Blocker (aka Eric “Hoss” Cartwright on Bonanza) in 1963. Meanwhile, Ponderosa Steakhouse, named for the ranch where Bonanza was set, would open two years later.
The Bonanza Steakhouse galloped on to open 600 or so restaurants, while Ponderosa Steakhouse took on Canada in the ’70s. By the 1990s, the two Bonanza-themed steakhouses had united under the Metromedia Family Steakhouses organization, and Bonanza and Ponderosa were reunited again. Together, these two are hangin’ on to the steakhouse reigns, along with the remaining 88 locations internationally.
21. Village Inn
With all the fast-food franchises fighting it out over who gets to be biggest boss in the burger business, Village Inn was busy winning multiple (!!) awards from the American Pie Council. First opening its doors in 1958 as the Village Inn Pancake House, the restaurant chain became popular for its breakfast menu, and of course, pies!
In the ’80s, the “Pancake House” got dropped and the new Village Inn added lunch and dinner to the menu. Breakfast biz slowed in the ’90s, and 2000s, but breakfast lovers need not fret! The franchise is flipping flapjacks and passing out pie in their remaining 212 restaurants.
How does a fast-food franchise differentiate itself among the fierce competition? Fuddrucker’s does it by offering large burgers, with beef ground on-site and buns baked in-house. Freddie Fuddrucker’s first fired up their ovens in 1979 when founder Philip J. Romano decided, “the world needed a better hamburger.”
Sounds like a recipe for success, no? Well, for a while it was with Fuddrucker’s growing to more than 200 locations. But like so many restaurants, the 2008 financial crisis hit Fuddrucker’s too. Not to fear, though, as of 2017 Fuddrucker’s is still serving up “a better hamburger” at its 111 locations in the U.S., and 38 international restaurants.
23. The Brown Derby
Sure, there are loads of chain restaurants to cater to your fast food needs, but are any of them shaped like a derby hat? Maybe it was the hat-shaped architecture or maybe it was the food, but either way, The Brown Derby was a success and more branches were opened.
The Brown Derby first opened in 1926 right across the street from Old Hollywood hotspot Cocoanut Grove, with additional locations opening around Los Angeles. As the decades wore on, one by one each Brown Derby hung up its hat and called it a day. For a fun trip down memory lane, hungry Hollywood nostalgics can eat at the resurrected Brown Derby in Walt Disney World.
Charles (Sonny) Watkins opened the very first O’Charley’s restaurant in 1971 in Nashville, Tennessee. Watkins turned the casual dining spot into a success, before turning over ownership in 1984. Under new leadership, O’Charley’s was eyeing a serious expansion, but oh O’Charley’s, what happened?
By 1987 there was a total of 12 O’Charley’s restaurants, including one in an abandoned Bennigan’s. By 1994 O’Charley’s was on track to take its 45 franchises further, but as time went on, delay gave way to more delays. As of 2013, O’Charley’s was a-okay, and had launched a permanent promotion — Free Pie Wednesday. If the craving for an O’Charley’s cherry pie takes hold, you know when to go!
25. Don Pablo’s
Dios mio, Tex-Mex restaurant chains do not have the best luck, do they? (RIP Chi Chi’s) Don Pablo’s started out strong, opening in Lubbock, Texas in 1985, and rapidly growing to 120 locations within a quick few years. But it wasn’t long afterward until things went from spicy to sour for Don Pablo’s.
The 2000s saw a change in upper management, and despite attempts to reignite the fire for fast Tex-Mex (because who doesn’t love Taco Tuesday?), location after location started saying adios and quietly closing. As of September 2018, there were only three Don Pablo’s left, with two of them closing over Thanksgiving two months later. For some Tex-Mex taquitos, there’s still the Don Pablo’s in Deptford, New Jersey, and for that, we say “muchas gracias.”
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