Skip to content

6 Restaurant Chains We've Lost for Good This Year

These brands have reached their expiration dates.

The pandemic has led to widespread closures in the restaurant industry, but the consensus on the scale of those closures is still evolving. A new report from The Washington Post suggests that initial figures may have been slightly overestimating the gravity of the situation.

A commonly cited piece of data is the National Restaurant Association's estimate of 90,000 pandemic-related closures in 2020. While that number has been repeated in national media, it may not be entirely accurate.

Using data collected from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Washington Post has arrived at its own, slightly lower, estimate. According to the publication, the pandemic most likely led to an additional 72,700 permanent and long-term restaurant closures in 2020—somewhat less than the NRA statistic, but staggering all the same. These closures represent a 95% increase over the average yearly closure rate.

No less than local and independently-owned restaurants, restaurant chains suffered pandemic-related closures, with many edged into bankruptcy (and some, liquidation).

Here's a look at six beloved restaurant chains that are disappearing in 2022. Don't miss These Restaurants Are Nearing Bankruptcy, Recent Data Shows.

1

Hale & Hearty

Hale & Hearty,
Hale & Hearty / Facebook

When Hale & Hearty first opened in New York City nearly 20 years ago, it was the perfect place to grab a soup and sandwich combo. Many compared it to Panera Bread, which had opened its first restaurant ten years earlier in 1987.

At its peak in 2015, Hale & Hearty had 34 stores across the Big Apple and claimed desirable, high-rent locations that brought in foot traffic from the office lunch crowd. However, those pricey Manhattan leases proved a tall order and the chain closed three locations the next year after struggling to make rent.

The loss proved prophetic. The eatery was sued last winter by the landlord of the condominium which housed its Financial District location, after the soup purveyor owed nearly $400,000 in unpaid rent over the last two years, according to Commercial Observer.

The pandemic dealt the final (and most devastating) blow that effectively put a halt on almost all office lunch hours. Hale & Hearty shuttered all 16 of its locations on July 1. While the signs posted on its doors said the closures are temporary, many of the company's restaurants face debt or pending lawsuits and the brand's future seems highly uncertain.

2

Howard Johnson's

Howard Johnsons restaurant
Road-Maven / Tripadvisor

The last remaining Howard Johnson's restaurant (an outpost in Lake George, N.Y.) closed up shop in June, marking the official end of the Howard Johnson's line.

Founded in 1929, and beloved for things like signature ice cream (available in 28 flavors), Howard Johnson's enjoyed its heyday in the mid-twentieth century, expanding over the course of several decades to a footprint of over 1,000 locations.

But facing increased competition from rival chains like McDonald's, Burger King, and KFC, HoJo's lost its footing in the latter half of the century. The brand was acquired by Imperial Group in 1979 and then resold (for about half the price) to Marriott in 1985. By 2000, there were less than a few dozen Howard Johnson's remaining.

3

Nestle Café

nestlé toll house café
ZikG / Shutterstock

Following a decline in foot traffic and a years-long lawsuit with its parent company, Nestle Café was sold last month by Crest Foods to restaurant operator FAT Brands.

While some locations are still operating, all 85 remaining cafés, found mostly in malls and shopping centers, will be converted into Great American Cookies stores, FAT Brands said in a statement.

4

GameWorks

gameworks
Jim Lambert / Shutterstock

The chain of entertainment centers folded in late 2021, announcing on Christmas Eve the closure of its six remaining locations.

Founded in 1996 as a joint venture between Sega and DreamWorks (and with Steven Spielberg as a creative consultant), GameWorks took a unique approach to themed dining, offering its patrons a fully-catered video game arcade experience along with bowling and billiards.

A sound business model, by all appearances. But DreamWorks backed out of the venture early on, selling its share in GameWorks in 2001. Two bankruptcies followed, and between 2017 and 2020 the company posted $28.9 million in losses.

By the time the pandemic arrived, along with mandatory closures, GameWorks was already on its way out.

5

Ryan's

ryan's restaurant exterior
Carl F. / Yelp

The buffet chain is one of several brands (along with Furr's and Tahoe Joe's) owned by holding company Fresh Acquisitions (formerly known as Buffets Inc.), which declared bankruptcy last April.

At the time of the filing, Fresh Acquisitions had between $10 million and $50 million in liabilities. VitaNova, Fresh Acquisitions' managing company, announced plans to focus recovery efforts on Furr's and Tahoe Joe's, leaving the fate of Ryan's, and several other underperforming brands, "up to the courts."

Fresh Acquisitions was then acquired by BBQ Holdings last fall in a bankruptcy auction. Interested primarily in Tahoe Joe's, BBQ Holdings did not, at the time of the auction, have any immediate plans to revive Ryan's or any of Fresh Acquisitions' other buffet brands.

6

Old Country Buffet

Old country buffet
George Sheldon / Shutterstock

Like Ryan's, Old Country Buffet was part of the Fresh Acquisitions portfolio auctioned off to BBQ Holdings last fall. As BBQ Holdings does not have any immediate plans to revive any of the buffet concepts, Old Country Buffet—along with Ryan's, Furr's, and Hometown Buffet—appears to be gone for good.

As Restaurant Business points out, the decline of Old Country Buffet and its sibling brands predated the pandemic and was rooted in years of mismanagement by parent company Fresh Acquisitions.

While rival buffet chain Golden Corral managed to stay afloat in 2020 and beyond, the Fresh Acquisition brands were poorly positioned to weather the pandemic, following "more than a decade of neglect."

Owen Duff
Owen Duff is a freelance journalist based in Vermont, home of Ben & Jerry’s. Read more