Food Court Chains That We Should Have Never Taken for Granted

Mall food court

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Mall food court
Wikimedia Commons

Gone But Not Forgotten

The heyday of the mall food court is long gone. What used to be the choice hangout for teenagers and a convenient spot to grab a fast meal for the whole family now feels like a wasteland — if it even exists in your local mall anymore. 

Choosing from the variety of food court restaurants was fun and exciting in the '80s and '90s, but little did we know back then that malls would be changing soon. Many popular food court staples went out of business or became a shadow of the company they once were. If we had known that these food court chain restaurants wouldn't stick around, we wouldn't have taken them for granted. 

TCBY yogurt cup
Flickr / Martin Cathrae


TCBY opened in 1981 and capitalized on the anti-fat diet craze. The frozen yogurt chain seemed to be everywhere by 1990, including in malls across the country. You could top your "healthy" froyo with anything, from caramel to gummy bears. The chain still exists, but it has gone by the wayside of other froyo chains, and you almost never see it in malls anymore.

Orange Julius/Dairy Queen in a mall
Wikimedia Commons

2. Orange Julius

Those foamy, refreshing creamsicle drinks from Orange Julius were the flavor of hot childhood summers. Then one day, they just disappeared from food courts everywhere, which was a real shame for a business that started way back in the 1920s. Nowadays, you can still find Orange Julius paired with Dairy Queen, its parent company, but they're a lot harder to find in malls than they used to be. 

Chi-Chi's? Here? Why?
Chi-Chi's? Here? Why? by Jeff Boyd (CC BY-NC-ND)

3. Chi-Chi's El Pronto

Chi-Chi's, the beloved Tex-Mex chain that went belly up in the early 2000s, had some Midwestern mall food court locations appropriately called Chi-Chi's El Pronto. It served a pared down menu of the chain's favorites, including crunchy ground beef tacos, burritos, rice, and refried beans. Now, the Chi-Chi's name only lives on in grocery store products like salsa and tortilla chips. 

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Kenny Rogers Roasters
Wikimedia Commons

4. Kenny Rogers Roasters

Kenny Rogers Roasters stormed on the food court scene in 1991, offering delicious rotisserie chicken, cornbread, and other Southern specialties. It was so popular that it was featured on an episode of "Seinfeld," but even the celebrity-backed chain couldn't survive. Most locations in the U.S. didn't make it past the '90s, but interestingly, the chain still thrives in some Asian countries. 

Related: The Best Panda Express Menu Items, Ranked

Hot Same Pretzels
Wikimedia Commons

5. Hot Sam Pretzels

One pretzel place seems to rule malls today: Auntie Anne's. But before them came Hot Sam Pretzels, which opened in the 1960s with an adorable pretzel-touting chef logo. They baked their soft pretzels in rotating ovens in their red brick-walled stores, so that malty aroma wafted through the mall. The popular shop even made a cameo in Starcourt mall in "Stranger Things," but the chain was sold Mrs. Field's, another mall favorite, in 1995 before disappearing.

Related: Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club Cafe

Chicken George restaurant
Flickr / Phillip Pessar

6. Chicken George

Chicken George was a Black-owned restaurant chain that started in Baltimore in 1979. It was named after a character in the book (and later TV series) "Roots: The Saga of an American Family." It served delicious Southern food like fried chicken and fish, gumbo, greens, and biscuits. Eventually, the chicken chain spread all over the East Coast, but it filed for bankruptcy in the early 1990s. 

Great American Cookies plush toys
eBay / South Florida Thrift Finds

7. Great American Cookie Co.

Remember those giant frosting-decorated cookies that were way cooler than a birthday cake? Chances are, your mom got some of them from Great American Cookie in the mall. The chain was founded on a family cookie recipe in a mall in Atlanta in 1977, and though the chain still exists (including many locations outside the U.S.), they're a lot harder to find than they used to be.