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25 Chain Restaurants You Loved As a Kid and Thought They Were Gone For Good. But They Are Not.

25 Chain Restaurants You Loved As a Kid and Thought They Were Gone For Good. But They Are Not.
Image Credit: United Liberty

Have you ever wondered what happened to some of your favorite chain restaurants that seemed to disappear from your town? Well, you may be surprised to know that many of them are still in business, with perhaps only one location remaining. In fact, we’ve compiled a list of 25 chains that you may have thought were dead but are still out there.

So, if you’re feeling nostalgic and want to relive some of your favorite childhood memories or want to try out some classic chain restaurant fare, then be sure to check out these remaining locations before they, too, disappear into the abyss of restaurant history.

I went to #25 almost weekly as a kid!

1. Rainforest Cafe

Rainforest Cafe
Image Credit: United Liberty

You can’t help but be enamored with the Rainforest Cafe’s plastic jungles, waterfalls, and animatronic gorillas. The chain’s gift shops are also a fan favorite. The restaurant’s menu features reasonably priced steaks, Mojo bone ribs, and coconut shrimp, as well as affordable kids meals. The erupting brownie desserts are also a must-try.

Despite the decline of the theme restaurant fad, Rainforest Cafe continues to thrive with 17 locations in the U.S. and five more outside the country. However, the chain’s presence has diminished from its peak of 32 locations in the U.S.

Rainforest Cafe’s success can be attributed to its unique atmosphere and menu offerings that cater to both adults and children.

2. Planet Hollywood

Planet Hollywood
Image Credit: United Liberty

Planet Hollywood burst onto the restaurant scene in 1991 with the backing of Hollywood celebrities such as Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, Sylvester Stallone, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The theme restaurant was an instant success, with each new location reporting close to $15 million in sales during its first year.

At its peak, Planet Hollywood boasted 87 locations worldwide, including in Phoenix, Columbus, and the Mall of America in Minnesota. However, the restaurant chain’s popularity waned over time, and today, only six Planet Hollywood restaurants remain. Despite this, the company is expanding as a luxury resort brand.

3. Baja Fresh

Baja Fresh
Image Credit: United Liberty

Baja Fresh Mexican Grill was established in 1990 and quickly gained popularity for its fresh ingredients and unique “Salsa Baja” served at the salsa bars. However, after Wendy’s acquired the burrito chain in 2002, sales began to decline, leading to a loss when Wendy’s sold the business just four years later.

Despite once having up to 300 locations, Baja Fresh has been reducing its presence in the United States and even failed to establish a location in Miami, which lasted less than a year. In 2017, the company reported having 165 Baja Fresh locations.

Baja Fresh’s menu includes a variety of Mexican dishes such as burritos, tacos, and salads, with options for vegetarians and gluten-free customers. The chain emphasizes using fresh ingredients and made-to-order meals. Additionally, Baja Fresh offers catering services for events and parties.

4. Big Boy

Big Boy
Image Credit: United Liberty

Big Boy, formerly known as Bob’s Pantry, has been in operation since 1936. The chain was once a major player in the restaurant industry, boasting over 1,000 locations across the United States in 1979. The chain’s chubby, cheerful mascot was a common sight, standing tall outside the restaurants.

However, Big Boy has lost ground to fast-food competitors in the burger business, and now only around 200 Big Boys and Frisch’s Big Boys remain in operation, primarily in the Midwest. The new owners of Big Boy Restaurants International are attempting to revive the brand through a new fast-food restaurant format.

Despite the decline in popularity, Big Boy remains a beloved icon in American culture. The chain’s diner-style restaurants offer a nostalgic atmosphere for those seeking a taste of the past.

5. Tony Roma’s

Tony Romas
Image Credit: United Liberty

Tony Roma’s is a family restaurant chain that started in Miami in 1972 under the leadership of Tony Roma, who was formerly in charge of the menu for the Playboy Club. The chain has more than 150 locations across six continents, with only 17 of those in the United States.

Tony Roma’s was franchised through an investment from Clint Murchison Jr., the founder of the Dallas Cowboys. However, the chain’s popularity in the US has declined, resulting in the closure of more than 160 stores across the country. The company has since shifted its focus towards overseas expansion, with the recent opening of its 37th location in Spain.

Tony Roma’s is known for its ribs and other barbecue fare, which have been popular with customers worldwide. Despite its struggles in the US market, the chain continues to grow in popularity overseas.

6. TCBY

TCBY
Image Credit: United Liberty

You may have heard of TCBY, a frozen yogurt chain that has been around since 1981. Originally known as “This Can’t Be Yogurt,” the company changed its name to “The Country’s Best Yogurt” after a lawsuit from a competitor. However, despite its long history, TCBY has struggled to keep up with newer, trendier frozen yogurt franchises.

With around 350 locations today, TCBY has closed many stores over the years. Despite this, the company still offers over 50 flavors and some gluten-free menu items to sweeten the deal for customers. Unfortunately, these efforts have not been enough to revive the struggling chain.

Overall, TCBY’s history is interesting, but the company’s current state is less than exciting. While it still offers a variety of flavors and menu items, it seems that TCBY has fallen behind its competitors in the frozen yogurt industry.

7. Roy Rogers

Roy Rogers
Image Credit: United Liberty

Roy Rogers, the “King of the Cowboys” in old movie westerns, licensed his name to a chain of burger restaurants in the late 1960s. By 1991, the chain had expanded to over 600 locations, primarily in the northeastern U.S. and mid-Atlantic. However, the business was sold, and the restaurants were converted to Hardee’s burger joints, resulting in a customer revolt from fans of the Roy Rogers brand.

Despite attempts to switch the name back, the damage was already done, and the Roy Rogers chain eventually closed down. However, in recent years, the chain has been making a comeback, with 50 locations currently serving up old favorites like the Double R Bar Burger. With its renewed focus on quality food and service, Roy Rogers is looking to recapture its former glory and win back its loyal fanbase.

8. Kenny Rogers Roasters

Kenny Rogers Roasters
Image Credit: United Liberty

You may be surprised to learn that country singer Kenny Rogers once founded a chain of rotisserie chicken restaurants in 1991 with the help of former KFC investor John Y. Brown. These restaurants quickly became a part of American pop culture, even making an appearance in a 1996 episode of Seinfeld.

However, Kenny Rogers Roasters no longer exists in North America, leaving rerun viewers scratching their heads. The chain, however, is thriving in Asia, with scores of locations throughout the region operated by a Malaysian company.

If you find yourself in Asia, be sure to check out Kenny Rogers Roasters for a taste of American pop culture and delicious rotisserie chicken.

9. Blimpie

Blimpie
Image Credit: United Liberty

As America’s oldest submarine sandwich chain, Blimpie has been a household name since its establishment in 1964. However, in recent years, the company has experienced a significant drop in its “footprint” and has changed ownership multiple times. At its peak in the early 2000s, Blimpie had almost 2,000 shops located in the United States and overseas.

However, the company’s website currently shows only around 250 locations, indicating a significant decline in its popularity.

Despite its decline, Blimpie still holds a place in pop culture, as seen in the occasional references to the chain in Tina Fey’s sitcom 30 Rock. The chain’s subs were a favorite of the show’s loser character, J.D. Lutz.

In 2017, the world’s first Blimpie, located in Hoboken, New Jersey, closed its doors. Despite its challenges, Blimpie remains a recognizable name in the fast-food industry, with a loyal customer base and a long history of serving delicious submarine sandwiches.

10. Kewpee

Kewpee
Image Credit: United Liberty

Kewpee is a century-old burger chain that originated in Flint, Michigan. The kewpie doll, a popular baby doll in the early 20th century, inspired the chain’s name. Kewpee burgers quickly became popular, and by the 1940s, around 400 Kewpee restaurants were operating nationwide. Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas has credited Kewpee as an inspiration for his own burger business.

Today, Kewpee is a relic restaurant with only five locations remaining. One is in Wisconsin, one is in Michigan, and three are in Lima, Ohio. Despite its dwindling presence, Kewpee still serves up its famous hamburgers, which have become a nostalgic favorite for many.

11. Bennigan’s

Bennigans
Image Credit: United Liberty

Bennigan’s is a chain of Irish-themed restaurants that originated in Atlanta in 1976. The company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2007 and closed down 150 restaurants.

However, the brand was revived in 2011 under new leadership. Despite its Irish pub roots, Bennigan’s struggled to stand out against competitors such as TGI Friday’s and Chili’s. The menu featured a mix of Southwestern-style appetizers, Cajun chicken, shrimp, Sriracha burgers, and tempura shrimp.

Currently, Bennigan’s has 13 locations in the United States, with restaurants located in Texas, New Jersey, and other states. For those looking to experience a taste of Ireland, Bennigan’s offers a variety of menu items and a lively atmosphere.

12. Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips

Arthur Treachers Fish Chips
Image Credit: United Liberty

If you’re a fan of fish and chips, you may have heard of Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips. The chain of restaurants was founded in Columbus, Ohio in 1969 and expanded rapidly, with over 800 locations nationwide at its peak.

However, the company’s decline began in the late 1970s due to the “Cod Wars” between Iceland and Great Britain, which caused the price of cod to skyrocket. This made the cod used in Arthur Treacher’s fish and chips recipe very expensive.

Today, only seven standalone Arthur Treacher’s locations remain, all located in Ohio and New York. Despite the chain’s decline, its name remains synonymous with classic British-style fish and chips. If you’re lucky enough to live near one of the remaining locations, you can still enjoy the taste of Arthur Treacher’s famous fish and chips.

13. Ground Round

ground round restaurant
Image Credit: United Liberty

You may remember Ground Round as the restaurant famous for hosting great kids’ birthday parties starring a mascot named Bingo the Clown. For adults, it was the place where you got peanuts in the shell before your meal and were encouraged to throw the shells onto the floor. However, in 2005, nearly half of the roughly 130 restaurants closed ahead of a bankruptcy filing, causing the chain to go out of style.

Today, fewer than 25 locations are still operating in the Midwest and Northeast, thanks to franchise owners who banded together to buy the company and prevent it from disappearing entirely. It’s worth noting that the surviving locations are still known for their family-friendly atmosphere and affordable menu options.

So if you’re looking for a casual dining experience that’s perfect for the whole family, Ground Round might just be the place for you.

14. Dog n Suds

Dog n Suds
Image Credit: United Liberty

When it comes to fast food, burgers dominate the menu, leaving hot dogs in the shadows. However, Dog n Suds, a restaurant chain that dates back to the 1950s, has always given hot dogs an equal footing with root beer. These drive-ins, complete with carhops, serve up their famous Coney cheese dogs, reminiscent of the TV show Happy Days.

According to the book Fast Food: Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age, Dog n Suds had an impressive 650 locations in 38 states in 1968. However, today, only 10 locations remain, all of which are in the Midwest.

Dog n Suds’ popularity may have waned over the years, but its legacy lives on as a reminder of a bygone era of drive-in restaurants and classic American fast food.

15. Quiznos

Quiznos
Image Credit: United Liberty

Quiznos, a sandwich chain that originated in Denver in 1981, quickly expanded throughout the U.S. and internationally. At one point, it was even a major competitor with Subway for the title of America’s favorite fast-food subs.

However, in recent years, Quiznos shops have been closing at a rapid pace. As of January 2019, there were fewer than 400 locations in the U.S., down from a peak of 5,000 in 2007. The chain faced financial difficulties during the Great Recession and filed for bankruptcy in 2014.

Despite these setbacks, Quiznos has a new owner, an investment firm with a track record of turning around struggling businesses. Fans of the sandwich chain hope the new owner will bring some much-needed magic to the brand.

16. Country Buffet

Country Buffet
Image Credit: United Liberty

In the mid-2000s, you could find around 700 buffet restaurants in the US that operated under the names of Country Buffet, Old Country Buffet, HomeTown Buffet, or Ryan’s. Despite the different names, they all belonged to the same company and offered an all-you-can-eat concept of comfort-food favorites such as fried chicken, meatloaf, mac and cheese, and coconut cream pie. The locations appeared similarly, and customers could expect the same menu classics.

However, the company faced some serious challenges and went through a series of bankruptcies and closures. In general, buffets experienced a steady decline over the years, and the Country Buffet chain was no exception. Currently, the website shows that less than 80 of the buffets are still in operation.

17. Chock Full O’Nuts

Chock Full ONuts
Image Credit: United Liberty

Chock Full O’Nuts is a coffee brand and cafe chain with a rich history dating back to 1926 when William Black launched a chain of nut shops in New York City. During the Great Depression, Black converted his nut stores into lunch counters, offering a cup of coffee and a sandwich for just 5 cents. By 1971, Chock Full O’Nuts had expanded to over 80 sandwich and coffee shops in the New York area.

After Black’s death in 1983, the number of cafes dwindled to just 17 before eventually closing down. However, in 2010, Chock Full O’Nuts coffee shops made a comeback. Currently, there are six locations in metro New York and Miami.

Chock Full O’Nuts is known for its high-quality coffee and affordable prices. The cafes offer a variety of coffee blends, including decaf and flavored options, as well as breakfast sandwiches, bagels, and pastries. The atmosphere is cozy and nostalgic, with vintage decor and a friendly staff. Whether you’re grabbing a quick cup of coffee on the go or looking for a comfortable place to relax, Chock Full O’Nuts has something for everyone.

18. Chicken Delight

Chicken Delight
Image Credit: United Liberty

If you were around in the early 1960s, you might remember the catchy jingle that encouraged Americans to “Don’t cook tonight — call Chicken Delight.” The chain had over 1,000 locations and was even bigger than KFC at the time. However, the quality of the fried chicken was inconsistent from one restaurant to another, and customers eventually started to leave.

Today, only about 25 Chicken Delights remain, with most of them located in central Canada and the New York City area. The chain still offers its classic fried chicken, but the menu has expanded to include buffalo wings, chicken fingers, and family combos. If you have a sweet tooth, you can even enjoy some cheesecake for dessert.

Despite its smaller size today, Chicken Delight continues to serve up tasty fried chicken and other menu items for its loyal customers.

19. Gino’s Hamburgers

Ginos Hamburgers
Image Credit: United Liberty

Gino’s Hamburgers was founded in the late 1950s by Gino Marchetti, a former football player who led the Baltimore Colts to NFL championships in 1958 and ’59. Although the chain grew to more than 350 locations, it was never a top contender in the restaurant industry. In the 1970s, Gino’s attempted to expand into the Midwest, but the endeavor was unsuccessful.

In 1982, Marriott Corp. purchased Gino’s and decided to convert its locations into Roy Rogers restaurants. However, the Gino’s brand was revived in 2010 as Gino’s Burgers & Chicken. Currently, there are only two Gino’s restaurants remaining, both located in the suburbs of Baltimore. Despite its limited presence, Gino’s has maintained a loyal following among locals who appreciate its classic burgers and chicken dishes.

20. The Brown Derby

The Brown Derby
Image Credit: United Liberty

During Hollywood’s golden age, the Brown Derby was a hub of movie-star glamour, where film deals were made, and aspiring actors were discovered. The chain once had four locations in the Los Angeles area, including the iconic Wilshire Boulevard location with its dome-shaped roof, resembling a giant derby hat. However, the chain eventually became outdated, and all four locations were closed by the mid-1980s.

Today, only one “Hollywood Brown Derby” restaurant remains in operation, thanks to a licensing deal with Disney’s Hollywood Studios park in Florida. The restaurant offers a glimpse into Hollywood’s past with its decor and menu, featuring classic dishes like Cobb salad and grapefruit cake. The restaurant is a popular destination for visitors seeking a taste of Hollywood’s golden age.

21. Chi-Chi’s

Chi Chis
Image Credit: United Liberty

If you’re a fan of Tex-Mex cuisine, you may be familiar with Chi-Chi’s, a restaurant chain that used to have over 200 locations in the US and Canada. However, due to bankruptcy and a hepatitis outbreak linked to green onions in 2003, all of the North American locations were closed by late 2004.

But don’t despair if you’re craving Chi-Chi’s Mexican fried ice cream or other dishes – you can still find the chain’s restaurants in Belgium and Luxembourg. And if you’re in the US, you can still enjoy Chi-Chi’s products at your local supermarket, as Hormel, the company known for Spam, sells Chi-Chi’s salsa, chips, and other items.

So, while you may not be able to visit a Chi-Chi’s restaurant in North America anymore, you can still enjoy the brand’s products and taste the flavors of Tex-Mex cuisine.

22. York Steak House

York Steak House
Image Credit: United Liberty

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, York Steak House was a popular chain of restaurants, mainly found in shopping malls throughout the eastern United States. Owned by General Mills, the chain served cafeteria-style steaks and sides, with a faint knights-of-the-round-table theme.

However, after General Mills sold off York, most of the chain’s restaurants were closed in 1989. The only one that remains in operation is located on the west side of Columbus, Ohio. It continues to serve up delicious steaks, baked potatoes, and pies, along with a heaping serving of nostalgia.

If you’re in the Columbus area, visiting York Steak House is a must for a taste of classic American steakhouse cuisine and a trip down memory lane.

23. Damon’s Grill

Damons Grill
Image Credit: United Liberty

If you’re looking for a casual dining experience with a sports bar vibe, Damon’s Grill might be worth checking out. Founded in Columbus, Ohio in 1979, this chain grew to nearly 140 locations in the eastern U.S. and the United Kingdom. The menu features classic all-American fare such as steaks, ribs, bourbon chicken, and pulled pork sandwiches.

However, Damon’s faced setbacks as other chains introduced more diverse menus, leaving customers wanting more variety. Fans also reported a decline in food quality and service. Despite surviving a 2009 bankruptcy filing, Damon’s has dwindled to just three locations in the U.S. today. If you happen to be near one of the remaining locations, it may be worth a visit for a taste of classic American cuisine in a sports bar atmosphere.

24. Ollie’s Trolley

Ollies Trolley
Image Credit: United Liberty

Ollie’s Trolley was a streetcar-themed restaurant chain that served spiced burgers, which were the brainchild of Oliver Gleichenhaus. John Y. Brown Jr., the man behind Kentucky Fried Chicken’s national success, attempted to turn Ollie’s Trolley into a national chain in the 1970s.

However, the restaurants were too small to accommodate drive-thrus, which customers were beginning to demand, and the burgers never caught on. By 1976, Ollie’s Trolley had almost 100 locations nationwide, but today only three remain: in Cincinnati, Louisville, and Washington, D.C.

The restaurant’s unique streetcar theme was reflected in the decor, which included a replica of a streetcar and a trolley bell that rang when the food was ready. Customers could enjoy their meals on stools at the counter or in booths. Ollie’s Trolley’s specialty was its spiced burger, which was made with a secret blend of spices and served on a sesame seed bun.

Despite its decline, Ollie’s Trolley’s unique streetcar theme and spiced burgers remain a nostalgic reminder of a bygone era in fast food history.

25. Howard Johnson’s

Howard Johnsons
Image Credit: United Liberty

In its heyday, Howard Johnson’s was America’s largest restaurant chain, with over 1,000 restaurants featuring its iconic orange roofs. However, the chain went through ownership changes, and today only one Howard Johnson restaurant remains, located in Lake George, New York.

The restaurant tries to stay true to its roots, serving signature dishes like fried clam strips and macaroni and cheese. Howard Johnson’s was once a popular roadside stop for American families traveling by car. The restaurants were often connected to motels, and the chain served more meals outside the home than any other restaurant chain except for the U.S. Army.

The motel chain is still growing, but the restaurant chain has dwindled away.

What Do You Think?

What Do You Think (1)
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Which of these restaurants did you have fond memories of? Would you like to go back to them and eat again?

Let us know in the comments.

Conor Jameson
Written By

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Rob

    February 17, 2024 at 1:25 pm

    I very much miss Joho’s! I would like to know if Big Boys and Shoney’s Big Boy were connected? Arthur Treacher’s was good. I would support all of these again.

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