8 Once-Thriving Restaurant Chains That Are Slowly Disappearing
It's a safe bet that 10, 20, 30, or even 100 years from now you'll be able to find McDonald's, Taco Bell, Subway, and Burger King. These chains, though varied in cuisine type and price point, all have one thing in common: demonstrated staying power. Then again, these restaurant chains once seemed like immutable fixtures of the American dining scene too, but they are slowly disappearing.
They have gone from widespread success in the past to hanging on by a thread in the present. Some failed to keep up with the times, some were the victims of mismanagement, and others took a blow during the pandemic and never really recovered.
Will these chains go the way of Howard Johnson's, that once-ubiquitous orange-roofed roadside diner the last of which closed in 2022? Or is a resurgence possible? Only time will tell, but for now, we catch these once-thriving chain restaurants in what seems to be their twilight years.
Lone Star Steakhouse
Once a rival of Outback Steakhouse, Texas Roadhouse, Black Angus, and the like, Lone Star Steakhouse just couldn't hold out. Per Restaurant Business Online, the chain, which once boasted around 265 locations, began shuttering multiple units in 2016, a few years after having been bought by Day Star Restaurant Group, as locations simply weren't proving profitable. By the 2020s, almost all locations had shut down, and as of the time of this writing, there is but one Lone Star Steakhouse left, and it's in Guam.
Dog n Suds
If you were to drive across much of the American Midwest in the 1950s, 60s, or 70s, it would have been hard to miss the hot dog and root beer drive-in chain Dogs n Suds. There were more than 650 Dogs n Suds locations at one point, per the Chicago Tribune. Today the company's website lists just 15 locations, one of which is a food truck and two of which are stated to be "Temporarily Closed."
Bonanza and Ponderosa Steakhouse(s)
Bonanza Steakhouse and Ponderosa Steakhouse are the same restaurant chain operating under different names at different locations, having merged in 1997. And both of the names of this steakhouse come from the same place, the classic Western TV show Bonanza. Ponderosa was the name of the ranch the family on said show ran.
Now that you know the backstory, know all that information might not matter for much longer. Whereas there were once more than 600 units of this dual-named restaurant chain, today there are fewer than two dozen. The parent company entered bankruptcy in 2008, and emerged in 2009 under a new name, but has yet to see a meaningful resurgence in profits.
Burgers and ice cream—it's a winning combination, no? Well, not always, it seems. There are, at present, 125 Friendly's locations operating in America, and that might not seem bad, really. But per Business Insider, at its peak Friendly's operated more than 800 restaurants. The chain filed for bankruptcy in 2020, ravaged by the pandemic, per Restaurant Business, and is unlikely to ever fully revive.
From some 800 stores down to… one. Yes, this once mighty seafood-centric fast-food chain is down to just one location, which can be found in Cuyahoga, California. The fish and chips were great, but, not great enough for people to pay higher prices, so when the cost of cod soared in the mid-1970s, Arthur Treacher's took a blow from which it would never fully recover.
Why did cod costs soar? Per Kiplinger, it was because of the "Third Cod War" between Iceland and Great Britain that occurred from 1975 to 1976. On a bittersweet note, given the chain's collapse down to one unit, 2022 marked the 50th anniversary of Arthur Treacher's.
Charlie Brown's Steakhouse
Charlie Brown never did have the best luck, did he? Well, neither did the steakhouse that shares a name with the Charles Schultz character. Founded in 1966 as Charlie Brown's Steakhouse and later renamed Charlie Brown's Fresh Grill, today there are but two locations left, both of which are in New Jersey. Once there were about 50 locations, and though the chain had been ailing for years, the pandemic knocked out nearly a dozen locations.
At its peak, there were dozens of Jerry's Restaurants in America, with most of them concentrated in the South and with a semi-autonomous chain operating out west, according to The Sacramento Bee. That was in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, though. The chain began losing steam in the later years of the 1900s, largely outcompeted by chains still doing well today. By the 90s, many locations had been sold and converted into Denny's, for example, and today there is but one Jerry's left. It's in Paris, Kentucky.
Once this fast-food chain, named for a singing cowboy, was as common as McDonald's in some places. There were well over 600 units in the later years of the 20th century, but today when you look through the chain's location finder, you'll find only 40. So what happened? A business decision. Roy Rogers had been owned by Marriott Corp. since the late 1960s, but in 1990 the company shifted its primary focus to hotels, selling off the brand to a company called Imasco which converted most locations into Hardees and sold off many others to competitors.