7 Once-Favorite Family Restaurant Chains That Went Out of Business
It was always a special night when your parents took you out to eat as a kid—because what could be more exciting than going to your favorite restaurant and ordering one of your favorite meals? While I'm not knocking on mom's home cooking, seeing a meal you specifically ordered arrive at your table arouses pure joy. And as you sit together with your family, eating that burger or drinking that milkshake, you know that those are the moments you'll look back on and cherish for years.
But what was once your favorite place to eat might not be anything other than a memory now, as so many restaurants could not withstand the test of time. Whether it be from competition, bad publicity, or just a lack of appeal to consumers, the dining establishments that you knew and loved may not be around nowadays.
These are some of the once-favorite family restaurant chains that are no longer in business. Once you've finished learning what happened to these restaurants, be sure to check out 4 Restaurant Chains Making the Biggest Comebacks After Bankruptcy.
Families who love football know that this fan-favorite establishment was founded in 1957 by NFL Hall of Famer Gino Marchetti. The decor featured sports memorabilia that football fanatics gawked upon while enjoying staple food choices like the Gino Giant burger. To make this food joint even more family-friendly, they had bundled family deals that could feed parties of five for under $2. After Gino's Hamburgers opened for business, it reportedly made strides throughout the mid-Atlantic until the '80s, when Marriott bought out the burger chain and merged it with its Roy Rogers brand.
In 2010, a similar-but-different restaurant opened up called Gino's Burgers and Chicken, providing a new menu. And while you can still visit the last handful of locations in Maryland today, those who loved the original Gino's burger stop will have their own special hall of fame place in their hearts.
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Back in the day, when families were craving a good burger, Red Barn was the place to go. You could enjoy its signature Big Barney or Barnbuster burgers and feel as if you're sitting on a farm. This once-huge franchise first opened in 1961 and soon took the world by storm. At the height of its popularity, Red Barn reportedly had about 300–400 restaurants worldwide. But sadly, just as quickly its success grew did it crash and burn. After a series of mergers and sales, Red Bard was eventually acquired by City Investing Company, which then allegedly allowed all of the leases for its Red Bard franchises to expire. Finally, in 1988, families bid farewell to the last official Red Barn location after it shut its doors.
Old Country Buffet
The beauty of restaurant buffets is that customers can pick from a wide selection of foods, so you never have to settle for just one dish. This is especially perfect for the indecisive kids who go from wanting chicken fingers to pizza in a matter of seconds. The Old Country Buffet brought that opportunity to families looking for a satisfying meal with lots of variation.
After a series of poor business decisions culminated with the economic strains of the COVID-19 pandemic, the brand closed its doors, Restaurant Business reported. According to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, Old Country Buffet's parent company Fresh Acquisitions filed for bankruptcy in April 2021. After eventually getting bought out by BBQ Holdings, Old Country Buffet's fate still hangs in the balance, as the company reportedly has yet to take any immediate action to revamp and relaunch this buffet brand.
Henry's Hamburgers is a beloved malt, milkshake, and burger chain that began in the '60s. It quickly evolved into a burger phenomenon, expanding to over 200 restaurants across the U.S.—even rivaling McDonald's. At one point in time, customers could not get enough of this establishment's 15-cent burgers. But its success could sadly not compete with the massive amounts of fast-food companies that developed over the years, leading to massive closings in the 1970s. Today, the once-thriving chain has been reduced to one location in Benton Harbor, Michigan.
Those growing up in the '60s and '70s may remember how Burger Chef was way ahead of its time, even patenting the flame broiler and creating the first fast-food kids' meal. Between 1968 and 1972, the restaurant chain rapidly grew from 600 to 1,000 franchise locations across the country. But that success was short-lived thanks to the increased competition in the fast-food industry. McDonald's hit Burger Chef with a major blow after launching its Happy Meal in 1979, and Burger Chef attempted to level the playing field by filing a lawsuit against the franchise that was ultimately settled out of court. While Burger Chef tried to keep up with the continued innovations of brands like McDonald's and Burger King thereafter, this once-beloved chain simply could not keep up. Although no longer in existence, today Burger Chef's legacy still lives on through Hardee's, which took over the fast-food chain in 1981 and gave the restaurants a total revamp.
What might be the most family-fun restaurant chain on this list, GameWorks was a prime spot for kids to enjoy food and entertainment all in one. Founded in 1996, GameWorks was a tag-team effort between the video game company Sega and the animated studio DreamWorks. Additionally, Steven Spielberg provided a helping hand as a creative consultant. The company gave customers a themed dining experience that offered a fully-catered video game arcade, bowling, and billiards.
Sadly, this distinctive restaurant lost its dream team when, in 2001, DreamWorks pulled out of the business. After going through a few bankruptcy filings, in September 2020, GameWorks attempted to make a recovery by filing for an IPO. However, according to an article from FSR magazine, "Documentation showed that since August 2017, the company had experienced three consecutive years of losses totaling $28.9 million, and the chain acknowledged that it may not be able to achieve profitability in the near term or at all."
After the restaurant/entertainment center experienced a slew of mandatory closures, the remaining six GameWorks locations shuddered its doors in late 2021.
Once considered the largest restaurant chain in America, Howard Johnson's was at its prime in the '60s and '70s. Known for its fried clams, hot dogs, 28 signature ice cream flavors, adults and kids alike made many happy memories at this beloved family-friendly restaurant. Unfortunately, this all changed when the brand was acquired by the Marriott Corp. in 1985. Under Marriott's ownership, Howard Johnson restaurants continued to close left and right, as greater emphasis was placed on the lodging segment of the brand's business portfolio. Eventually, the Lake George, NY, location—and last HoJo restaurant—officially closed for good in 2022.