After a long weekend of home-cooked feasts, many Modesto residents may be looking for a little kitchen relief from the Thanksgiving holiday.
A night out at one of the city’s many locally owned or national chain restaurants is just the break needed after eating turkey leftovers in all its incarnations for days. Still, while Stanislaus County has a host of big-name eateries to choose from, the region doesn’t necessarily have all of the biggest restaurant chains.
Area diners long have pined for some of these companies to open locations in the Central Valley. While some are close by, these are the top-earning national restaurant chains of 2022 not open in Stanislaus County, based on domestic systemwide sales according to food industry trade publication Nation’s Restaurant News.
Large restaurant corporations study traffic and residential data to decide where to put their locations, said Tom Solomon, who co-founded CoSol Commercial Real Estate 35 years ago and has decades of experiencing signing leases with national chains. He said companies look carefully at existing traffic numbers and population demographics before green-lighting new sites.
“These companies want to hit the ground running,” he said about corporate restaurants scouting locations. “They want to go where the people are. They don’t have time to wait for (an area) to get good or things to open.”
The Modesto area has all but one of the fast-food heavy Top 25 national chain restaurants already — including about 20 locations for No. 1 chain McDonald’s throughout the county. But here is a look at a baker’s dozen of successful chains in the Top 50 nationally that do not have a presence in the region, and the reasons they might not be here.
1. Chick-fil-A: America’s No. 1 chicken chain, with 2,600 locations, still does not have a restaurant in Stanislaus County. The closest store opened in Manteca in April 2020 to long lines. Given the brand’s enduring popularity, experts think it’s a matter of when, not if, the chain opens in the region. (Ranked No. 3 in the Top 50)
2. Whataburger: The Texas-based burger chain has shops in 14 states currently, focusing largely on South and Midwest. There are no locations in California at this time. (Ranked No. 28)
3. Cracker Barrel: For more than 50 years, this has been one of the premier Southern-themed chain restaurants in the country. The company grew thanks to its convenient interstate locations and now has seven locations in California, including three in the Sacramento region. (Ranked No. 30)
4. Raising Cane’s: Raising Cane’s has earned a cult following for its fried chicken fingers and sauces. But Stanislaus County has so far been shut out of the craze. Fear not, though, because the new Raising Cane’s on Pelandale Avenue is near completion and should open this winter. Another is planned for Hatch Road in Ceres. (Ranked No. 32)
5. Jersey Mike’s: As the name implies, this New Jersey-based submarine sandwich company is a hit across the country, with more than 2,300 locations. The company has close to 20 locations listed as “coming soon,” but none pending in the Central Valley. The closest current location is on Grant Line Road in Tracy. (Ranked No. 35)
6. The Cheesecake Factory: One of the region’s perennially requested restaurants, the company is known for its expansive menu and dining rooms, which often are located in high-traffic mall zones. The chain has close to 40 California locations, but only three in the Central Valley — one each in Sacramento, Roseville and Fresno. (Ranked No. 36)
7. LongHorn Steakhouse: This steakhouse chain is owned by the same parent company as Olive Garden (which has two locations for its Italian eateries in the county, one in Modesto and one in Turlock). But the Florida-based corporation has only two LongHorn locations in the Golden State, both in Southern California, and focuses most of its locations on the East Coast and Southern states. (Ranked No. 37)
8. Culver’s: This Wisconsin-based fast-casual chain is known for its frozen custard and butter burgers. But company’s more than 800 locations are primarily in the Midwest, with some scattered through the South as well as Western states including Utah and Arizona. The chain does not have any California locations. (Ranked No. 38)
9. Zaxby’s: The Georgia-based chicken chain is known for its chicken wings, chicken sandwiches and chicken “Fingerz.” Most of its more than 900 locations are in the Southeastern U.S., with no locations in California. (Ranked No. 39)
10. Hardee’s: While you’ve never eaten at a Hardee’s in California, there is still a good chance you have tried its food. Hardee’s is the East Coast and Midwestern sibling chain to Carl’s Jr. on the West Coast. The fast-food burger brands merged in 1997 when Carl’s Jr.’s parent company CKE Restaurants Holdings Inc. bought Hardee’s. The menus are basically identical, but for the most part you won’t find a Hardee’s west of Colorado. (Ranked No. 40)
11. Bojangles: Another Georgia-based fried chicken chain with almost 800 locations makes the list. Known for its Cajun-seasoned chicken and buttermilk biscuits, the company is almost exclusively clustered in the Southeast, with some new expansion into the Midwest. But no California locations at this time. (Ranked No. 43)
12. Waffle House: First opened in 1955 in Georgia, this iconic Southern brand is famous for serving people 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, even through hurricanes and natural disasters. Known for its breakfast and lunch fare, the company’s closest location is in Arizona. Most locations are in the South and Southeast, with its furthest Northern sites in Ohio and Pennsylvania. (Ranked No. 45)
13. Firehouse Subs: Despite having more than 1,200 locations across the country, this submarine sandwich chain started by firefighter brothers has only one location in the Northern San Joaquin Valley — in Stockton. Most of its California stores are in Southern California, with a handful of sites in the Sacramento area and Bay Area. (Ranked No. 49)
So, which of these not-here national restaurants do you wish was here the most? Vote in our online Modesto Bee reader poll by Sunday, Dec. 4.