In what was dubbed the American retail apocalypse, malls all over America have been going out of business in the last decade. With digital retail on the rise and some of the major retailers shuttering their doors, these once-ubiquitous shopping hubs simply had to pivot toward experiences and personal services to try and survive.
Then they were dealt another blow—closures due to the pandemic. The new strategy of focusing on businesses like movie theaters, gyms, and dining to attract customers suddenly fell through as those types of activities are considered high-risk in the age of coronavirus.
USA Today recently reported a grim projection—about 25% to 50% of America's malls could disappear within the next three to five years. "That ends up changing the face of America," said Deborah Weinswig, the CEO of Coresight Research, a company with expertise in retail industry insights.
With the future of malls as a retail concept looking bleaker than ever, the survival of many food court restaurants comes into question, too. What will happen to fast food franchises that owe their success primarily to high–foot traffic locations brimming with hungry shoppers?
These ten food court staples are synonymous with the American mall experience, and are facing an uncertain future.
Pretzels from Auntie Anne's
With locations in over half of America's malls, the beloved soft pretzel has become a synonym for mall food. Although the company is looking to expand its reach beyond malls by employing food trucks and testing stand-alone locations in urban areas, the famous pretzel's heyday may be over with the death of the shopping mall. Favorite items you'll miss? The Cinnamon Sugar Pretzel and the Pepperoni Pretzel. Here are 5 Things You'll Never See at Mall Food Courts Again.
Classic rolls from Cinnabon
The franchise itself may not be going away any time soon—they operate close to 1000 locations in almost 50 countries. But unless you're at a regional airport or ordering delivery, it may be a while before you encounter another one of their perfectly gooey cinnamon rolls. Check out these 19 Beloved Fast Foods You'll Never Be Able to Order Again.
Orange Julius' namesake beverage
Orange Julius is Dairy Queen's "treat center" concept, developed specifically for places with high–foot traffic like malls. And although you could get the popular OJ-milk-vanilla beverage at Dairy Queen locations for a while, the parent company stopped carrying it in 2019. So if you want an Orange Julius, you'll have to go to your nearest mall—if your town still has one. Here are 15 Things You Didn't Know About Dairy Queen.
The restaurant chain's entire existence was tied to malls, and most of their locations could be found there. By 2019, they had closed hundreds of stores, including their iconic Times Square location, putting the total count at less than half of what it was in 2004. Let's be real, the beauty of Sbarro's was never about uniqueness or top quality, but it was about craveability—their pizza and pasta dishes definitely hit the spot after a long afternoon of shopping. And as such, we'll miss them dearly.
Fruit juices from Jamba
Some 15–20 years ago, smoothies were the "it girl" of mall food, and Jamba Juice was the mecca for health-conscious shoppers. They've since dropped the "Juice" from their name and rebranded as a health-conscious fast food destination for acai bowls, juices, and smoothies that incorporate plant-based ingredients. Jamba currently operates more than 800 locations, but with fierce competition from other health-forward chains in urban areas, we'll see what the future holds for the company beyond the mall. Here are The Best and Worst Menu Items at Jamba Juice.
Pretzels from Wetzel's
With its 300+ locations primarily located in malls, theme parks, and outlet centers, Wetzel's franchise may be another one that takes a serious hit from mall closings. Whether Wetzel's pretzel was your pick over Auntie Anne's or not, you'll surely miss mall pretzels of all stripes.
Charleys Philly Steaks
If you were having lunch or dinner at the mall, Charleys was always a hearty option. Their menu, albeit somewhat limited, consists of Philly steaks, loaded fries, and chicken, turkey, and veggie sandwiches. But being most notably a mall eatery, you probably won't be stumbling across too many Charleys locations out in the wild. If you need a new sandwich to obsess over, We Tried 6 Fast-Food Chicken Sandwiches & This Is the Best.
Quiznos' toasted subs
Quiznos' downfall dates back to their bankruptcy announcement in 2014, after which the chain had gone from being a serious competitor to Subway to shuttering most of its 5,000 locations. Today, there are about 800 Quiznos locations in the U.S., and die-hard fans bemoan the fact that they can't get a similar hot toasted sub experience anywhere else. Here are The Unhealthiest Fast Food Sandwiches in America—And 10 Healthier Options.
Cookie cakes from Great American Cookies
With fewer trips to the mall, we'll certainly be seeing less of Great American Cookies. The cookie-forward brand, famous for cookies and other cookie-affiliated products like cookie cakes, operates close to 300 stores mostly located in malls. And while the idea of a cookie cake does sounds appealing enough on its own, the company is working on several co-branded stand-alone locations with Marble Slab Creamery, which will pair freshly-baked cookies with homemade ice cream.
Hot Dog on a Stick
Maybe the most convenient snack across all food court offerings, a hot dog on a stick has definitely had a moment in our mall culture. However, the idea of eating this savory dish anywhere outside of a county fair seems as outdated as the idea of shopping in a mall. With only 80 remaining locations primarily set in malls, the chain's days may be numbered.
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