Restaurant Chains We Miss


Scott Olson / Staff / Getty Images News / Getty Images North America / Getty Images CC

Cheapism is editorially independent. We may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site.
going out of business

Delicious Memories

Americans have been dining out for as long as there's been a United States, but it wasn't until after World War II that fast-food and sit-down restaurant chains became part of the national fabric. Over the decades, tastes have changed, and not all of our favorite restaurants have kept pace — though one Tudor-style steakhouse is coming out of retirement later this year, much to the delight of nostalgic fans. Most defunct chains are not so lucky, including many beloved restaurants that may be gone from our roadsides, shopping malls, but are definitely not forgotten. 

Related: Big-Name Stores We've Lost in the Past Decade

Erik P./Yelp


GameWorks, which got its start in the mid-'90s, has had a rough go of it lately. Though it once boasted about 30 locations in prominent malls and entertainment districts nationwide, plus several more abroad, the arcade-restaurant combo with laser tag, bowling, and other amusements was reduced to six locations and then closed its doors permanently, citing the lasting effects of the pandemic. But like a rebooted title or respawned character, nothing in gaming is ever truly dead — and a GameWorks location in Seattle is open under new management.

Abandoned Steak and Ale restaurant, Westminster Mall, Colorado (2011)
Abandoned Steak and Ale restaurant, Westminster Mall, Colorado (2011) by Xnatedawgx (CC BY-SA)

Steak & Ale

The first Steak & Ale opened in Dallas in 1966, promising beef and booze at prices a family could afford, and now it's coming back in 2023. Known for its signature Tudor-style buildings and cozy interiors, this culinary creation by Norman Brinker was one of the pioneers of the sit-down casual restaurant industry that mushroomed across America in the 1970s. At its peak in the late '80s, there were about 280 restaurants nationwide. But as with other chains, Steak & Ale couldn't keep up with the nation's changing tastes, and the brand's parent company — which also owned Bennigan's — went bankrupt in 2008, abruptly closing all 58 remaining Steak & Ales. Now, 14 years later, a Minneapolis suburb is getting a new location thanks to Kansas-based Endeavor Properties. The chain's logo and color scheme will be back, along with prime rib and an unlimited salad bar, much to fans' delight.

RelatedUnusual Theme Restaurants Across America

Howard Johnson's

Howard Johnson's

Until recently, one last Howard Johnson's restaurant stubbornly hung on in the resort town of Lake George, New York, but now the sole survivor of this once-nationwide chain of roadside restaurants and motels has folded. Howard Johnson's made a name with sterling service, consistent food quality, and of course, ice cream. At its peak in 1975, there were more than 1,000 orange-roofed HoJo restaurants across the country, many attached to Howard Johnson motels. In the mid-1980s, the company was sold to Marriott, which sold off the hotel chain and began converting non-franchise HoJos into Big Boy restaurants (which Marriott also owned). Franchise owners banded together to preserve the remaining Howard Johnson's restaurants, but without support from their corporate parent, it was a slow, steady decline. By 2014, only the Lake George restaurant remained. The lease for the 7,500-square-foot property? Just $10.

Related: Restaurants That Changed American Dining Forever

Old Country Buffet/Hometown Buffet

Old Country Buffet

This once-ubiquitous buffet was among the chains that shuttered as a result of parent company Fresh Acquisition’s bankruptcy in 2021. Old Country Buffet has a new owner, BBQ Holdings, but executives there say they have no plans to breathe life into the once-extensive chain, which was down to just under 17 locations from hundreds at the beginning of 2019, according to Mashed. The same fate befell sibling brands HomeTown Buffet and Ryan's.

Related: These Buffet Chains Have Closed Locations Permanently

Arthur Treacher's Fish and Chips
Scott McPartland / Contributor / Archive Photos / Getty Images CC

Arthur Treacher's Fish and Chips

Arthur Treacher was a British actor who made a name in the U.S. as talk show host Merv Griffin's sidekick in the mid-to-late 1960s. Treacher cashed in on his fame by lending his name to this Ohio-based fast-food chain, which opened its first restaurant in Columbus in 1969. By the late 1970s, there were more than 800 locations nationwide, but the number tumbled to just two in 2021, and then one in 2022. Talk of reviving the brand as a ghost kitchen (a restaurant with no dining room that only exists for online pickup and delivery orders) faded in 2022.

For more fascinating trivia, sign up for our free newsletters.

Burger Chef 2901 N Dixie - 1962
Burger Chef 2901 N Dixie - 1962 by Northridge Alumni Bear Facts (CC BY-SA)

Burger Chef

When the founders of Burger Chef opened in Indianapolis in 1957, the primary goal wasn't to sell burgers — it was to showcase the broilers and milkshake machines their restaurant equipment company made. Within a year, however, the restaurant proved so popular that brothers David and Frank Thomas Jr. decided to go into the burger business full time. In less than a decade, they had 500 stores.

Like rival McDonald's, Burger Chef offered a double burger (the Top Shef) and a quarter-pounder (the Super Shef). It was the first to introduce a kid's meal (the Funmeal) and even offered a condiment bar where you dress your burger the way you wanted. In 1968, the Thomas brothers sold out to General Foods, which continued to expand aggressively across the U.S., peaking in the early '70s with more than 1,000 outlets. But General Foods could never catch up with Mickey D's or another rival, Burger King, and in 1982, it sold the chain to the parent company of another burger chain, Hardee's. The new owners quickly began converting the remaining 600 or so Burger Chefs to Hardee's, leaving nothing but tasty memories, even making its way into Season 7 of "Mad Men."

The exterior of the Official All Star Cafe in Times Square, New York City in October, 1996.
The exterior of the Official All Star Cafe in Times Square, New York City in October, 1996. by RickDikeman (CC BY)

Official All-Star Cafe

Celebrity-owned restaurants are nothing new, but in the mid-1990s the Official All-Star Cafe took star-powered dining to a new level. Or at least tried to. Backed by Planet Hollywood and superstars including Shaquille O'Neal, Wayne Gretzky, and Joe Montana, the All-Star Cafe opened in late 1995 in New York City's Times Square. The 34,000-square-foot restaurant served sports bar-style food (sandwiches, burgers, pasta, and booze); decked out with sports memorabilia from famous athletes (Andre Agassi's ponytail, anyone?), and dozens of TVs screening live games and greatest-hits clips. Other outlets followed quickly in tourist meccas such as Las Vegas and Cancun, Mexico, as well as Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida. But the All-Star Cafe's winning streak didn't last long. The chain filed for bankruptcy in 1999, and the last outpost at Walt Disney World was shuttered in 2007.

D'Lites Of America Founder And Interior Press Photo 1985
D'Lites Of America Founder And Interior Press Photo 1985 by Phillip Pessar (CC BY)


The fitness boom of the late 1970s and early '80s had fast-food companies scrambling to come up with options that would satisfy customers who demanded healthier fare. D'Lites promised burgers made with extra-lean ground beef, whole-grain sandwich buns, salads and other vegetarian options, and sparkling juices. In 1983, five years after the first restaurant opened in suburban Atlanta, the company began expanding. Within two years, there were 100 stores in 19 states with 1,000 more in the works. But those bold business plans fell apart almost immediately. As one Florida franchisee told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, "What we found was people really don't care that much about nutrition." The company filed for bankruptcy in 1986 and vanished quickly.

Cody M/Yelp

Luby's Cafeteria

Opening in 1947, this Texas cafeteria chain couldn't survive the pandemic. Despite furloughing more than half of its corporate staff, cutting the pay of other salaried employees 50%, and getting a Paycheck Protection Program loan of $10 million, it wasn't enough to stave off bankruptcy in September 2020. The company was still liquidating its assets well into 2022. 

Scott Olson / Staff / Getty Images News / Getty Images North America / Getty Images CC


Created in 1976 by Norman Brinker, the man behind the popular Steak & Ale chain (more on that later), Bennigan's faux-Irish pub vibe became a hit with diners who wanted a beer with their burger but didn't need all the trappings of a fancy sit-down restaurant. By the time Brinker left to buy and expand Chili's in 1983, at the time a small burger chain in Texas, there were more than 150 Bennigan's across the U.S. But some say the chain overexpanded without taking the time to develop signature dishes that would distinguish Bennigan's from upstart rivals such as Applebee's and T.G.I. Friday's. A leveraged buyout in 1991 didn't help, and in 2008 Bennigan's corporate parent declared bankruptcy. But like other dead brands, Bennigan's has since risen from the ashes under new ownership; today, about 9 restaurants operate across the Midwest, South, and East Coast — far outnumbered by overseas locations, where the chain is still growing.

The Phantom Chi-Chi's sign...
The Phantom Chi-Chi's sign... by Nicholas Eckhart (CC BY-NC)


This chain of Mexican restaurants got its start in Minneapolis in 1975, sharing space with a bar owned by an ex-NFL player. It was such a success for founders Max McGee (a former Green Bay Packer) and Marno McDermott that they quickly brought on a third partner to expand the business. By the mid-'90s, Chi-Chi's had more than 200 outlets, mostly in the Midwest, but aggressive overexpansion and competition from more nimble (and less expensive) rivals such as Taco Bell left the company struggling to retain a loyal following. 

In 2002, Chi-Chi's parent company declared bankruptcy. Any hopes for a revival were dashed the following year, when a hepatitis A outbreak killed four people and sickened more than 650 people who had eaten at Pittsburgh-area Chi-Chi's restaurants. Two years later, the remaining restaurants closed. But the brand name lives on. In the U.S., you can buy Chi-Chi's salsas, tortilla chips, and chili seasonings, or you can eat at a Chi-Chi's restaurant in Belgium.

Bill Knapp's -- A Snack or A Meal -- matchbook cover.
Bill Knapp's -- A Snack or A Meal -- matchbook cover. by Wystan (CC BY-SA)

Bill Knapp's

If you grew up in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, or Ohio, and took a lot of road trips as a kid, you probably stopped to eat at a Bill Knapp's. The first restaurant opened in Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1948, the brainchild of Clinton B. Knapp, a former traveling salesman. Knapp's goal was to provide traveling businessmen and families with tasty, inexpensive food that would be consistent no matter where they were going. Over the coming decades he succeeded in growing the chain to nearly 70 outlets, distinctive for their white brick colonial structures with green shutters and doors, as well as their desserts. But by the early 1990s, sit-down family restaurants serving chopped steak platters, baskets of fried shrimp, bowls of chicken noodle soup, and birthday cakes were no longer what most diners desired, and the chain filed for bankruptcy in 2002. Today, Bill Knapp's exists as a commercial bakery in Saline, Michigan, turning out cakes and doughnuts like the restaurants used to serve.

Ground Round Elyria, OH
Ground Round Elyria, OH by Mike Kalasnik (CC BY-SA)

Ground Round

In 1969, Howard Johnson's decided to go into the burger business, giving baby boomers raised on fast food a more refined sit-down option that welcomed families but had a separate bar area for the grownups. Its signature dish was a half-pound burger called The Ground Rounder, but they also served Americanized versions of Italian, Mexican, and Chinese fare. Peanuts and popcorn were free for diners, and kids' meals were priced at times according to a novel "pay what they weigh" scheme: a penny a pound. By 1991, there were about 200 outlets throughout the Eastern U.S. But years of corporate mismanagement and turnover had taken its toll, and the company went abruptly bankrupt in 2004. Franchisees banded together to save some locations, and today there are about 15 locations, mostly in the Dakotas, Minnesota, and New England.

Specialty's Cafe and Bakery

Specialty's Cafe and Bakery

Because of the pandemic, Specialty's Cafe and Bakery closed all of its 50 locations in three states — California, Washington, and Illinois. Known for oversized cookies and sandwiches for 33 years, the pandemic proved too much for a chain that relied on lunchtime traffic in business districts. All of its locations closed in 2020.

A branch of Kenny Rogers Roasters in SM City Clark, Angeles City, Philippines.
A branch of Kenny Rogers Roasters in SM City Clark, Angeles City, Philippines. by FoxLad (CC BY)

Kenny Rogers Roasters

What do you get when you pair a country singer with a former governor and KFC executive? A sure-fire way to lose a lot of money. Kenny Rogers and former Kentucky Gov. John Brown Jr. teamed up to open this chain of wood-fired rotisserie chicken restaurants in Florida in 1991. At its peak in 1996, there were about 300 Kenny Rogers Roasters in the U.S. and Canada, as well as a handful in Malaysia. But stiff competition from Boston Market and other chains that offered similar menus of roast chicken, sandwiches, and veggie sides proved to be Kenny Rogers' undoing, and two years later the company went under. Today, an independent chain of Kenny Rogers Roasters thrives in Malaysia, the Philippines, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

Minnie Pearl Chicken
Minnie Pearl Chicken by Denny-Moeller Talent, Inc (None)

Minnie Pearl Chicken

Kenny Rogers wasn't the first country star to make an ill-fated entry into the restaurant business. Minnie Pearl, a regular at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry for decades and on TV's "Hee Haw," attached her name to a fried chicken franchise in 1966. It was founded by a fast-talking Tennessee politician and wannabe restaurateur named John Jay Hooker, who wanted to capitalize on the success of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Once he persuaded Pearl to be the public face of the operation, Hooker began selling franchises aggressively and took the company public. Investors drove the stock price as high as $56 in 1969, even though only about 50 restaurants had opened, and before long the Securities and Exchange Commission decided to take a look into the matter. By the time the company settled with the SEC in 1973, its finances were in shambles. Within a few years, the few hundred outlets in the mid-South were history. Minnie Pearl's legacy, however, remains untarnished.

Naugles Tacos & Hamburgers
Jenna R./Yelp

Naugles Tacos & Hamburgers

Dick Naugle had been a Del Taco franchisee in Southern California for several years when he decided he could build a better taco by striking out on his own. He opened the first Naugles Tacos & Hamburgers in 1970 in Riverside, adding two more outlets by the end of the decade. At that point, Naugle sold out to businessman Harold Butler, who founded Denny's in the 1950s. Butler began franchising Naugles restaurants throughout the U.S., building the chain to about 225 outlets by the mid-1980s. In 1988, an investor acquired Naugles and Del Taco, consolidating them under the Del Taco name (one of the last, in St. Louis, became an architectural landmark of sorts). Naugles itself has been revived, thanks to the efforts of Orange County food blogger Christian Ziebarth, who opened a new iteration of the beloved taco joint in 2015 in Fountain Valley, California. 



The buffet dining of Souplantation didn't allow takeout during the pandemic, leading to the chain closing its doors in 2020 after 42 years. As Garden Fresh (Souplantation's parent company) CEO John Haywood told the Los Angeles Times, “We could’ve overcome any other obstacle, and we’ve worked for eight weeks to overcome these intermittent financial challenges, but it doesn’t work if we are not allowed to continue our model." In May came news that a ;Souplantation was reopening in La Mesa, California, with a unique model that uses its space as an adult day care center until 2 p.m. daily, then converts to a restaurant.