4 Once-Largest Steakhouse Chains In America That Went Out of Business
America's love affair with a steak dinner started many decades ago and is still as strong as ever.
While the current competitive steakhouse landscape is dominated by household names like Outback, LongHorn, and Texas Roadhouse, many steakhouse giants have come and gone before them.
Here's a walk down memory lane that takes stock of several beloved American steakhouse chains that ended up going out of business.
Someone should have told Mr. Steak not to "fix what ain't broke," as the popular chain's pivot outside of steak seemed to be its demise.
The popular nationwide brand was first launched in Colorado in the 1960s, when a steak dinner was just about the epitome of the American lifestyle. It served affordable, U.S.D.A. choice steak—a T-Bone steak dinner featuring salad, a choice of potatoes, and toast would set you back about $3.99 back then ($2.99 with coupons.)
Throughout the following decades, the chain flourished with its simple message of high-protein, well-priced dinner options, and reached its absolute peak with 278 units across the country in 1978.
But the chain then tried to diversify, following what it believed was a shift in public opinion on steak, adding chicken, fish, salad, and other options to its menu, which ended up confusing the message to its customers. Besides, the clientele was already being drawn away by competitors.
Add to that a money-losing attempt at expanding and the chain ended up filing for bankruptcy in 1984 at a reduced store count of just 150. In 1993, the chain attempted a comeback by rebranding its remaining 40 locations to Mr. Steak's Firegrill, a modernized Western-themed concept with huge dining rooms, visible cooking areas, lounges, and new decor.
In 2009, the final location of Mr. Steak closed its doors in St. Charles, Mo. Some of its Michigan locations were rebranded as Finley's, and you can still enjoy a steak there today.
Steak and Ale
Another relic from the '60s, the Steak and Ale brand debuted in Dallas as a chain offering a high-end steak experience at lower prices. Its signature dishes included an herb-roasted prime rib, NY strip, and filet mignon, while the menu was punctuated with an unlimited salad offering and a soup that came alongside most dishes.
In 1976, Pillsbury purchased all 113 Steak and Ale locations and ended up taking it to new heights—by the late '80s, the chain was at its peak with 280 restaurants across the country. But competition began nipping at its heels and the company was soon on a downward spiral.
In 2008, all of the chain's remaining 58 locations shuttered permanently as part of its parent company's bankruptcy proceedings.
However, there's been recent chatter about reviving Steak and Ale, whose intellectual property like branding and recipes safely reside with Legendary Restaurant Brands, LLC, the parent company of Bennigan's and Bennigan's On the Fly. The chain is allegedly opening its first location in Cancun, Mexico and looking for franchisees in the United States.
Valle's Steak House
This steak and lobster joint must have been doing something right because it was around for an impressive tenure of over seven decades. The chain's locations, dotted across Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., Florida, and Georgia, operated huge dining rooms and provided quick service to its patrons, which enabled them to benefit from a fast turnover of customers.
But by the '80s, the company was in turmoil and Judith and Richard Valle, part of the founding family, were looking to offload their controlling shares in the company. At the time, Valle's operated 32 locations and this was the beginning of the end for its shrinking footprint.
The final three locations shut down in December of 1991.
York Steak House
Owned by cereal giant General Mills, this cafeteria-style chain of restaurants was quite a name on the steakhouse scene in the '70s and '80s. In its heyday in 1982, York operated close to 200 locations in 27 states, spanning from Texas to Maine. Most of the locations were housed inside malls and served hot and cold items like the popular steak, potatoes, and salad combo.
Some of the chain's locations would eventually become York's Choices, which featured the addition of bakery and dessert displays at the front of the store. But once General Mills bowed out of the relationship, things quickly went downhill for the strip mall staple. The chain began shedding locations and while some remained in operation as independent restaurants for several years, the brand was largely defunct by the early aughts.
One final York Steak House location is still in operation today in Columbus, Ohio. According to its website, the restaurant is keeping the nostalgia, as well as the former concept of quality steaks, very much alive.
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