15 Popular Restaurant Chains That Are Now a Thing of the Past

A Howard Johnson's restaurant


Chances are, no matter where you live, you’re not that far from at least a few chain restaurants. Major chains like McDonald’s and KFC have long been a part of American culture, and they’ve also spread around the world. Aside from those, there’s been an explosion of casual dining chains, like Chili’s, Outback, Logan’s, Applebee’s, and more.

When it comes to chains, some explode in popularity and then fizzle out, others just never seem to get off the ground. Some of them stick around in our hearts as old favorites, others are almost forgotten. Take a look at this list of 15 restaurant chains that are no longer with us, for example.

  1. Howard Johnson’s

    At one time, this chain of restaurants and hotels was the largest in the country. Today, the hotel chain lives on in some locations, but there are only a handful of the restaurants left.

  2. Chi-Chi’s

    NFL star Max McGee had a hand in founding this chain in the 1970s. It helped increase the popularity of Mexican restaurants, but lost ground to competitors. A hepatitis outbreak linked to the restaurant in 2003 didn’t help! You can still find Chi-Chi’s brand salsa and other products in some supermarkets, however.

  3. Steak and Ale

    This chain helped launch the very idea of a casual dining steak and salad bar type restaurant. Eventually, it couldn’t keep up with its imitators, and the last Steak and Ale closed in the 2010s.

  4. Burger Chef

    8418271637_dbca5c076f_kJay Phagan via Flickr

    This chain was once a rival of McDonalds. It was no mere imitator, however — its innovations included the first kids meals with toys. Still, it couldn’t keep up, and the chain was sold to Hardee’s in 1981.

  5. Big Boy

    The chubby, burger-toting mascot of this chain once dotted highways all over America. There are still about 100 locations in California and the Midwest, but the chain lost out to competition like Shoney’s (which was once an affiliated chain).

  6. Bennigan’s

    This chain was a big player in the casual dining sports bar scene, with big screen TVs and an Irish pub theme. Bankruptcy hit it in 2008, and now there are only 23 left.

  7. Druther’s

    Though known by the alternate name of “Burger Queen,” this chain also sold fried chicken. If your curious about this combo, there’s still one Druther’s location standing in Campbellsville, KY.

  8. A&W

    Famous for popularizing root beer floats (as well as drive-thrus), A&W restaruants are one of the oldest chains. After nearly going extinct, they’re now opening more than ever. Everybody loves a comeback story!

  9. Claudia Sanders

    Claudia Sanders was the wife of Harlan Sanders, AKA Colonel Sanders of KFC fame. After he gave up his share in KFC, the two opened this chain — and were promptly sued. Thanks to the settlement, there’s just one Claudia Sanders left, in Shelbyville, Kentucky.

  10. Minnie Pearl’s Chicken

    She might be more famous as a country comedian performing on the Grand Old Opry and Hee-Haw, but Pearl also founded a restaurant chain. It never matched KFC for consistency, however, and fizzled out.

  11. Kenny Rogers Roasters

    Clearly this country singer didn’t learn from Minnie Pearl’s example. His own chicken restaurant didn’t last in America, though it’s still popular in Asia.

  12. Pup ‘n’ Taco

    This chain suffered from a bit of an identity crisis: you could order hot dogs, tacos, pastrami sandwiches, and more.

  13. Sambo’s

    This chain was declared racist from the start, because of the assumed connection the the derogatory children’s story “Little Black Sambo.” Can’t say with miss this one.

  14. White Tower

    This chain was a blatant imitator of White Castle. Pretty lazy to not even try to come up with an original name!

  15. Wimpy

    Here’s a chain we loved. Founded in 1934, it served up delicious burgers for decades. It’s more or less gone in the U.S., but you can find Wimpy restaurants overseas, especially South Africa.

Do you have any memories of these restaurants? Other chains  you loved that are now gone?

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