Not every restaurant chain ends up dominating like McDonald's or Subway. Some struggle to compete and then dwindle into oblivion, though sometimes without going away completely.
Here are 25 chains you may have thought were dead, because they disappeared from your town years ago. But they're still out there — maybe with only one lingering location.
Catch them while you can!
1. Howard Johnson's
Howard Johnson's, often connected to motels, was once America's largest restaurant chain and served more meals outside the home than anyone but the U.S. Army.
At HoJo's peak in the late 1970s, it covered the country with more than 1,000 of its iconic orange roofs. The chain was even featured in an episode of Mad Men.
Today, one Howard Johnson's restaurant remains: in Lake George, New York. It tries to stay faithful to the signature dishes fans remember, like fried clam strips and macaroni and cheese. The rest withered away as the chain went through ownership changes.
2. Planet Hollywood
Planet Hollywood launched in New York in October 1991 with a ton of hoopla. The theme restaurant was backed by Hollywood celebrities Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, Sylvester Stallone and — before his days as California governor — Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Each new location reported close to $15 million in sales during its first year. At Planet Hollywood's height, 87 locations spanned the globe, in places including Phoenix; Columbus, Ohio; and the Mall of America in Minnesota.
But Planet Hollywood faded, along with the star power of its famous investors. The official website shows there are now just six Planet Hollywood restaurants, though the company is expanding as a luxury resort brand.
3. Roy Rogers
In the late 1960s, Roy Rogers — "King of the Cowboys" in old movie westerns — licensed his name to a chain of burger restaurants. By 1991, there were more than 600 locations, mostly in the northeastern U.S. and mid-Atlantic.
And then, the business was sold. The restaurants were turned into Hardee's burger joints — and fans of the Roy Rogers brand were furious. The customer revolt was so powerful that Hardee's tried switching the name back.
But the damage was done. The Roy Rogers chain went off into the sunset, though in recent years it has been trying to make a comeback. Today, there are 50 locations serving up old favorites like the Double R Bar Burger.
4. Baja Fresh
Before Chipotle, Qdoba and Moe's, there was Baja Fresh Mexican Grill, a burrito chain that started in 1990. It grew quickly on the popularity of its fresh ingredients and its tangy, dark and mysterious "Salsa Baja" at the restaurants' salsa bars.
In 2002, Wendy's bought Baja Fresh — and that's when things started going downhill. Sales declined, and Wendy's would sell the burrito business at a loss just four years later.
Baja Fresh once had as many as 300 restaurants, but the chain has been shrinking and pulling out of parts of the U.S. It recently attempted to return to Florida, but a location in Miami lasted less than a year. The company reported 165 Baja Fresh locations in 2017.
5. Big Boy
Big Boy has endured since 1936, when the company got its start as Bob's Pantry. At one time, the chain was a giant in the restaurant industry — in more ways than one.
In 1979, more than 1,000 Big Boy burger joints greeted customers across the U.S. with towering statues of the chain's chubby, cheery mascot. Since then, the diner-style restaurants have lost out to quick-service competitors in the burger business.
So today, around 200 Big Boys and Frisch's Big Boys are in business, primarily in the Midwest. New owners of Big Boy Restaurants International are trying to revive the brand through a new fast-food restaurant format.
6. Tony Roma's
Tony Roma's boasts that it has "over 150 family restaurant locations on six continents." But the chain's website shows only 17 of those are in the U.S., where the company got its start.
Tony Roma, who was oversaw the menu for the Playboy Club, opened his first namesake restaurant in Miami in 1972. It became a franchise through an investment from Clint Murchison Jr., the founder of the Dallas Cowboys.
Tony Roma's once had more than 160 stores in the U.S., but American customers lost their enthusiasm for the chain's ribs and other barbecue fare. The company continues to grow overseas and recently announced the opening of its 37th location in Spain.
TCBY originally stood for "This Can't Be Yogurt," but the company later switched to "The Country's Best Yogurt" after its original name drew a lawsuit from a competitor.
Now, the acronym might as well stand for "This Chain Brings Yawns." TCBY — which got its start in Arkansas in 1981 — has struggled to compete against newer, trendier frozen yogurt franchises.
The company reportedly had nearly 1,800 locations in the early 2000s. The website shows that today, there are only around 350, and stores keep closing. A TCBY in Lincoln, Nebraska, went out of business in 2017 after more than three decades.
8. Rainforest Cafe
You can’t help loving Rainforest Cafe, with its plastic jungles, intermittent thunderstorms and animatronic gorillas. Plus, whenever someone is served one of the erupting brownie desserts, the whole restaurant has the fun of screaming, "Volcano!"
Though it has been more than 20 years since the theme restaurant fad peaked, Rainforest Cafe continues to survive, though it's not roaring as loudly as it once did.
The first Quiznos opened in Denver in 1981, and it wasn't long before the chain's tasty and toasty subs could be found throughout the U.S. and around the world.
But in recent years, Quiznos shops have been vanishing about as quickly as they spread. In January 2019, fewer than 400 were left in the U.S. — down from some 5,000 locations in 2007, Restaurant Business reported.
The chain took a beating during the Great Recession and filed for bankruptcy in 2014. Fans of Quiznos are hoping to see some magic worked by the company's new owner, an investment firm with experience turning troubled businesses around.
10. Kenny Rogers Roasters
Country singer Kenny Rogers (the guy who sang, "You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em") founded a chain of rotisserie chicken joints in 1991 with the help of former KFC investor John Y. Brown.
The restaurants became a part of American pop culture. In a 1996 episode of Seinfeld, Kramer declares war on a brightly lit KRR across from his apartment — and then gets hooked on the chicken.
Rerun viewers who've never heard of Kenny Rogers Roasters may be baffled, because the chain no longer exists in North America. But it's thriving across Asia: A Malaysian company operates scores of locations throughout the region.
If you were a fan of Tina Fey's sitcom 30 Rock you may remember Blimpie as an occasional punch line. Its subs were a fave of loser character J.D. Lutz.
In recent decades, Blimpie has been a loser, too. It has lost a lot of "footprint."
At the chain's peak in the early 2000s, close to 2,000 Blimpie shops could be found throughout the U.S. and overseas. But now, the company's website shows around 250 locations. The world's first Blimpie — in Hoboken, New Jersey — closed in 2017.
Like Kenny Rogers Roasters, Chi-Chi's no longer exists in North America, though the Tex-Mex restaurants can still be found overseas, including in Belgium and Luxembourg. So if you're craving Chi-Chi's Mexican fried ice cream, you'll need to book a flight.
But the Chi-Chi's brand may be as close as your nearest supermarket. Hormel — the company best known for Spam — sells Chi-Chi's salsa, chips and other products.
At one time, Chi-Chi's had more than 200 restaurants, but its U.S. and Canada locations were all gone by late 2004 following bankruptcy and hepatitis. An outbreak linked to green onions at a Chi-Chi's near Pittsburgh killed four people in late 2003.
Bennigan’s is an Irish-themed restaurant chain that was founded in Atlanta in 1976. It was near death, but is trying to make a comeback.
In 2007, the owners filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation and shut down 150 restaurants overnight.
The chain had been having difficulty standing out against competitors like TGI Friday's and Chili's. Despite Bennigan's Irish pub roots, the menu featured Southwestern-style appetizers and tempura shrimp.
The company's website recently showed 13 locations open in the U.S., stretching from Texas to New Jersey.
14. Arthur Treacher's Fish & Chips
Arthur Treacher was a movie actor who specialized in playing British butlers. Just think of that old search engine Ask Jeeves. Treacher, in fact, played a butler named Jeeves in a couple of movies in the 1930s.
The fish and chips restaurants that carried his name got their start in Columbus, Ohio, in 1969. The chain expanded rapidly, and at its peak there were over 800 locations nationwide.
But the company’s downfall began when the price of cod skyrocketed in the late 1970s. The chain's website recently showed just seven stand-alone Arthur Treacher's still in business, in Ohio and New York.
15. Ground Round
In the 1970s and '80s, parents endured a lot of begging to go to Ground Round, because the restaurants were famous for hosting great kids' birthday parties starring a mascot named Bingo the Clown.
For adults, Ground Round was the place where you got peanuts in the shell before your meal — and were encouraged to throw the shells onto the floor.
Ground Round went out of style, and in 2005 nearly half the roughly 130 restaurants closed abruptly closed ahead of a bankruptcy filing. Today, there are fewer than 25 locations in the Midwest and the Northeast.
16. Dog n Suds
Hamburgers and hot dogs typically get equal space on the grill at cookouts, but in the fast-food business it's not even close. Burgers are king, and frankfurters are rarely even found on the menu.
But, going back to the 1950s, hot dogs have shared star billing with root beer at restaurants called Dog n Suds. They're drive-ins — with carhops. Think of the old TV show Happy Days.
According to the book Fast Food: Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age, Dog n Suds in 1968 had 650 locations in 38 states. Today, only 10 are left, in the Midwest.
17. Ollie's Trolley
In the 1970s, John Y. Brown Jr. — the man responsible for developing Col. Harland Sanders' Kentucky Fried Chicken into a national chain — tried to do the same thing with a spiced burger he'd discovered at a restaurant in North Miami Beach, Florida.
Brown reportedly told the burger's inventor, Oliver Gleichenhaus, that he'd make him "bigger than the Colonel." By 1976, a streetcar-themed restaurant called Ollie's Trolley was in nearly 100 locations nationwide.
But the burgers never caught on, and the restaurants were too small to have drive-thrus, which customers were starting to demand. Today, just three Ollie's Trolleys remain: in Cincinnati; Louisville, Kentucky; and Washington, D.C.
18. Country Buffet
In the mid-2000s, Americans were piling it on their plates at some 700 buffet restaurants called either Country Buffet, Old Country Buffet, HomeTown Buffet or Ryan's.
The names may have been different, but it was all one company and one concept: all-you-could-eat of comfort-food favorites like fried chicken, meatloaf, mac and cheese, and coconut cream pie.
The business encountered some serious indigestion and went through a series of bankruptcies and closings. The website shows fewer than 80 of the buffets are currently operating.
19. Chock Full O'Nuts
The Chock Full O'Nuts coffee brand and cafes have a long history, going back to a chain of New York City nut shops launched by William Black in 1926.
When the Great Depression hit — and even nuts seemed like a luxury — Black converted his nut stores into lunch counters, serving a cup of coffee and a sandwich for 5 cents. By 1971, Chock Full o’ Nuts had over 80 sandwich and coffee shops in the New York area.
When Black died in 1983, only 17 cafes were left, and they eventually closed. But in 2010, Chock Full O'Nuts coffee shops returned. Today, there are six: in metro New York and Miami.
20. Chicken Delight
In the early 1960s, it was hard to escape a jingle that told Americans, "Don't cook tonight — call Chicken Delight."
Chicken D had more than 1,000 locations and was bigger than KFC. The fried chicken was part of pop culture and was referenced in the TV sitcom Bewitched and the movie comedy Village of the Giants.
But the quality was inconsistent from one restaurant to another, and customers flew the coop. About 25 Chicken Delights are operating today, in central Canada and the New York City area.
21. Gino's Hamburgers
Gino's was founded in the late 1950s and took its name from one of its co-founders, Gino Marchetti, who led the Baltimore Colts to NFL championships in 1958 and '59.
The chain was always a second-stringer in the restaurant leagues, though it grew to more than 350 locations. in 1982, Marriott Corp. bought Gino's and decided to convert its locations into Roy Rogers. (And we know how that turned out.)
The Gino's brand went away, though it returned in 2010 as Gino's Burgers & Chicken. Today, there are two restaurants, in the Baltimore suburbs.
22. The Brown Derby
During the golden age of Hollywood, the Brown Derby was synonymous with movie-star glamour. It was a place where film deals were made, newcomers were discovered, and people on the way down went to be seen.
At one time, there were four Brown Derby restaurants operating in the Los Angeles area, including an iconic location on Wilshire Boulevard with a dome that made the place resemble a giant derby hat.
The chain became old hat, and all four locations were gone by the mid-1980s. But thanks to a licensing deal, one "Hollywood Brown Derby" restaurant is in business today — at Disney's Hollywood Studios park within Walt Disney World in Florida.
Kewpee is a relic restaurant if ever there was one. The very first one started serving up hamburgers in Flint, Michigan, in 1918, and a full century later the chain is still around! But just barely.
The name was inspired by the kewpie doll, a cutesy, chubby baby doll that was popular in the early 20th century. The burgers became popular, too, and by the 1940s around 400 Kewpee restaurants were operating nationwide.
Wendy's founder Dave Thomas once said Kewpee inspired him to go into the burger business. Now, just five Kewpee locations remain: one in Wisconsin, one in Michigan and three in Lima, Ohio.
24. York Steak House
In the 1970s and 1980s, York Steak House restaurants could be found throughout the eastern U.S., primarily in shopping malls. The chain, with its faint knights-of-the-round-table theme, dished out its steaks and fixin's cafeteria-style.
York Steak House was owned by General Mills, best known for Cheerios and other breakfast cereals. After the company sold off York, most of the chain's meat-and-potatoes restaurants were shut down in 1989.
But not the location on the west side of Columbus, Ohio, which is the only one still operating to this day. It continues to serve up steaks, baked potatoes, pies — and heaping helpings of nostalgia.
25. Damon's Grill
Yet another chain with ties to Columbus, Ohio, Damon's was founded in that city in 1979 and eventually grew to nearly 140 casual dining restaurants in the eastern U.S. and the United Kingdom. Damon's was part sports bar, part steak-and-barbecue joint.
The company suffered setbacks as other chains jazzed up their menus with much more variety than customers found at Damon's.
Damon's survived a 2009 bankruptcy filing but has continued to dwindle away. Today, just three U.S. restaurants are still going.
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