It’s a safe bet that in 10, 20, 30 or even 100 years you will be able to find McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Subway and Burger King. These chains, while varied in terms of type of cuisine and price, all have one thing in common: proven endurance. Then again, these restaurant chains once seemed like unchanging fixtures in the American dining scene, but they’re slowly disappearing.
They have gone from widespread success in the past to hanging by a thread in the present. Some failed to keep up, some suffered from mismanagement, and others took a hit during the pandemic and never really recovered.
Will these chains follow in the path of Howard Johnson, that once-ubiquitous orange-roofed roadside restaurant, the last of which closed in 2022? Or is a resurgence possible? Only time will tell, but for now, we’re catching these once-thriving restaurant chains in what appears to be their twilight years.
Once a rival to Outback Steakhouse, Texas Roadhouse, Black Angus, and more, Lone Star Steakhouse just couldn’t hold its own. By Online catering business, the chain, which once had about 265 locations, began closing several units in 2016, a few years after being bought out by Day Star Restaurant Group, because the locations were simply not proving profitable. By the 2020s, almost every location had closed, and at the time of this writing, there is only one Lone Star Steakhouse left, and that’s in Guam.
If you were to drive through much of the American Midwest in the 1950s, 60s, or 70s, it would have been hard to miss the Dogs n Suds hot dog and root beer drive-in chain. There were over 650 Dogs n Suds locations at one time, per Chicago Grandstand. Today, the company’s website only lists 15 locations, one of which is a food truck and two are declared “temporarily closed”.
Bonanza Steakhouse and Ponderosa Steakhouse are the same chain of restaurants operating under different names in different locations, having merged in 1997. And both names of this steakhouse come from the same location, the classic western TV show Bonanza. Ponderosa was the name of the ranch the family ran on said show.
Now that you know the backstory, know that all of this information might not matter much longer. While there were once more than 600 units of this dual-name restaurant chain, today there are less than two dozen. The parent company went bankrupt in 2008 and emerged in 2009 under a new name, but has yet to experience a significant recovery in profits.
Burgers and ice cream is a winning combination, isn’t it? Well, not always, it seems. There are, at present, 125 Friendly sites operating in America, and that may not sound bad, really. But by Business Intern, at its peak, Friendly’s operated over 800 restaurants. The chain filed for bankruptcy in 2020, ravaged by the pandemic, per Restaurant Business, and it is unlikely to fully revive.
From some 800 stores to… one. Yes, this once mighty seafood-centric fast-food chain comes down to one location, which is in Cuyahoga, California. The fish and chips were excellent, but not enough to make people pay higher prices. So when the cost of cod skyrocketed in the mid-1970s, Arthur Treacher took a hit from which he would never fully recover.
Why has the price of cod soared? According to Kiplinger, this was because of the “Third Cod War” between Iceland and Britain which took place from 1975 to 1976. On a bittersweet note, given the collapse of the single-unit chain, 2022 marked Arthur Treacher’s 50th birthday.
Charlie Brown never had the best luck, did he? Well, neither does the steakhouse that shares a name with Charles Schultz’s character. Founded in 1966 as Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse and later renamed Charlie Brown’s Fresh Grill, today only two locations remain, both located in New Jersey. It used to have around 50 locations, and although the chain had suffered for years, the pandemic destroyed nearly a dozen locations.
In its heyday, there were dozens of Jerry’s restaurants in America, most concentrated in the South and with one semi-autonomous chain operating in the West, according to The Sacramento Bee. Yet that was in the 60s, 70s and 80s. The chain began to falter in the latter years of the 1900s, largely overtaken by the chains that are still doing well today. By the 90s many locations had been sold off and converted to Denny’s, for example, and today only one Jerry’s remains. It’s in Paris, Kentucky.
Once this fast food chain, named after a singing cowboy, was as common as McDonald’s in some places. There were well over 600 units in the last years of the 20th century, but today when you look in the channel locator you will only find 40. So what happened? A business decision. Roy Rogers was owned by Marriott Corp. since the late 1960s, but in 1990 the company focused primarily on hotels, selling the brand to a company called Imasco which converted most locations to Hardees and sold many others to competitors.
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