Chain restaurants like Applebee's, Fridays, Chili's and Outback may dominate highways and mall locations alike, but it wasn't always that way. See if you can remember these totally or nearly defunct chain restaurants from decades ago.
Call it a game changer. Inexpensive surf and turf came in the form of Valle's, an East Coast chain that saw good business from 1933 until the millennium. Although it made it until 2000, the weakened economy that followed the 1970s gas crisis is thought to have sealed its destiny.prevnext
One of America's first casual dining/sports-bar chains, Bennigan's often lagged behind similar concepts from contemporaries like Fridays, Applebee's, and Chili's. The chain was sold several times over the years, and filed for bankruptcy in 2008. New ownership has kept just 23 locations open in the U.S.prevnext
Bob's Big Boy
Founded in Southern California in 1936, only five Bob's Big Boys remain in operation today. However, other Big Boy restaurants across the country remain open, sporting the double-decker burgers and iconic mascot that became a staple of American eateries throughout the 20th century.prevnext
Picture a fierce competitor to McDonald's with over 1,000 locations and you're picturing Burger Chef in its heyday. The chain is noted for introducing several fast-food staples to the industry, like kids' meals with toys. However, they were doomed by bad business practices, and Burger Chef was sold to Hardee's in 1981.prevnext
Charlie Brown's Steakhouse
A quickly-growing regional chain out of New Jersey in the '80s and '90s, Charlie Brown's Steakhouse went out of business, though some franchise owners have stayed open as Charlie Brown's Fresh Grill.prevnext
Launched in the 1970s by Marno McDermitt and NFL star Max McGee, Chi-Chi's quickly grew, introducing a rudimentary menu of Mexican-style food to many American towns.
As the popularity and variety of Mexican restaurants grew, Chi-Chi's began to suffer the consequences. The kiss of death for the franchise came in 2003 when a Hepatitis outbreak in the food supply led to three customer deaths.
An unusual tactic on fast food, D'Lites marketed itself based on nutritional value. It boasted about low-calorie cheese, buns high in fiber and hamburgers made with lean beef.
Founded in 1978, there were more than 100 locations by 1985 — but by 1987, it had sold 90 percent of its restaurants to Hardee's after ceasing to franchise in 1986 and filing for bankruptcy.prevnext
Football Hall of Famer Gino Marchetti opened the first Gino's Hamburgers in 1957, and by the 70s, he was able to boast over 300 locations. In the early 1980s he sold the chain to the Marriott hotel chain, which quickly converted all the Gino's into Roy Rogers.
Marchetti returned to the restaurant business in 2010, opening up a new Gino's location.prevnext
One of the countless mimics of McDonald's, Henry's Hamburgers was a major player in the '50s, '60s, and '70s. By the early '60s there were over 200 Henry's locations — more than McDonald's had at the time. However, a rapid fall from success including failure to evolve and a controversy involving horse meat resulted in just one Henry's location being open today.prevnext
The Howard Johnson's hotel-restaurant chains began in the 1920s and evolved along with the American car culture. By the 1960s, over 1,000 of the chain's distinctive orange roofs dotted U.S. highways.
The hotel portion of the business has been sold off — still existing in name, but with none of the classic HoJo design elements. Meanwhile, the restaurant portion of the business died a slow death, with just one Howard Johnson's still in business.prevnext
Kenny Rogers' Roasters
Country music legend Kenny Rogers teamed with business partner John Y. Brown to launch the Kenny Rogers' Roasters chicken chain in 1990. While the food was popular, the restaurants were never able to break into the market and were sold off to Nathan's in 1998.
Seinfeld fanatics will remember a classic episode in which the chicken franchise was forever immortalized.prevnext
Two brothers, Clifford and Stuart Pearlman, launched Lum's, which specialized in "beer-steamed" hot dogs, in Florida in 1971.
The chain's unique menu and distinctive glass-doored storefronts made it popular enough to support 400 locations at one point. The Pearlman brothers eventually sold the chain to Kentucky Fried Chicken for $4 million and the brand was eventually phased out, with the final Lum's closing in 2009.prevnext
Minnie Pearl's Chicken
In what is now regarded as a cautionary tale of slapping a famous name on a restaurant and calling it quite, Minnie Pearl's Chicken, named after the country singer Pearl, once had almost 500 locations in business. However, due to a lack of cohesive menu or recipes, the chain quickly fell apart within a few years.prevnext
Ponderosa Steakhouse and Bonanza Steakhouse
Ponderosa and Bonanza Steakhouses, now owned by the same parent company, once numbered in the hundreds combined in the United States. Today, the total of both stands at under 20 across the country.prevnext
Pup 'N' Taco
Despite the taco specification in the chain's name, you had a much wider variety than simply tacos at Pup 'N' Tacos. Think: tacos, hamburgers, hot dogs and pastrami sandwiches.
The first restaurant opened in 1965, and success came quickly after that; by 1973 there were 62 of them.
In 1984, Taco Bell bought 99 Pup 'N' Taco restaurants in California, but not three stores in Albuquerque, two of which went by the name "Pop 'N' Taco". Those stores finally closed in the 2010s.prevnext
With a name that combined its founding members names, Sambo was opened by Sam Battistone and Newell F. Bohnet in 1957. The company soon fell into controversy when opponents argued its name was a reference to a derogatory term for African Americans. The restaurant had almost 1,000 locations at its height but shut down in the '80s after most were sold to Denny's.prevnext
Launched in the mid 1960s by a group of disgruntled McDonald's employees, Sandy's offered similar menus to the golden arches, but there were key differences in their business structure. Think: including operators of the restaurants owning their stores and not leasing from the corporation, and not being required to buy supplies from the corporation.
By the early 1970s, financial issues forced them to sell to Hardee's.prevnext
The All-American Burger
Although the Southern Californian All-American Burger was never more than a regional success, it made its claim to fame when it was featured in the 1982 movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The film's cult following outlived the restaurants, and its final west coast location closed in 2010.
However, East Coast residents may be excited to learn that a Massapequa, Long Island establishment using the same name and logos has been flipping burgers since 1961.prevnext
Long Island-native Herb Wetanson was inspired to found Wetson's after seeing McDonald's while on a roadtrip out west. With help from his family, Wetanson opened the first Wetson's in 1959.
Initially, the chain and its 15 cent hamburgers were a massive success. However, the chain fell on hard times when McDonald's and Burger King aggressively expanded into the New York market in the 1970s; by the end of the decade, Wetson's was but a memory.prevnext
If White Tower's name sounds a bit repetitive of White Castle, that's because the restaurant was doing its best to imitate the slider chain.
Opened by John E. Saxe and his son, Thomas, White Tower copied White Castle's menu, style, advertising and even architecture. At its height, there were 230 White Towers, but the chain died after legal action from White Castle forced them to make significant changes.prev