15 Vintage Restaurant Chains We Wish Never Closed Down

15 Vintage Restaurant Chains We Wish Never Closed Down

Part of growing up is saying goodbye to the wonderful stores and restaurants that you grew up with. We miss these 15 chains most of all:

1. Kenny Rogers Roasters

This strange collaboration between country music star Kenny Rogers and KFC magnate John Y. Brown actually drew good reviews, and spread to more than 350 locations. It was killed here in the states by competition from other casual dining chains, but it's still thriving in Asia.

A modern Kenny Rogers Roasters in Asia.Eric Jaz Foodies

How does Rogers feel about the chain's failure? He says that mainly he misses "those little corn muffins that actually had corn in them."

2. Steak and Ale

This sit-down restaurant introduced the self-serve salad bar, and it was also well known for being dirt cheap - $2 filet mignon, anyone? The chain spread to over 100 locations in 24 states, but lost customers to modern chains like Applebees. Surprisingly, a new Steak and Ale is opening this year, 10 years after the last one closed.

New Steak and Ale restaurants could be opening soon.Biz Journals

3. Chi-Chi's

If you love Tex-Mex food, you can thank this chain. It popularized the style when it introduced menu items like grande nachos. It flourished from the late '70s to early '90s before bankruptcy and a massive hepatitis A outbreak (three people died) finished the franchise. You can still buy their sauce in some grocery stores.

4. Burger Chef

In the 1960s, Burger Chef was actually a strong competitor for McDonald's and had just 100 less locations across the country. When it peaked in 1971, there were 1,200 Burger Chef restaurants in America. The chain also introduced the Fun Meal, the first kiddie meal to include a plastic toy.

Cardboard packaging for a Fun Meal.The Sphinx

Chris's Burgers in Rialto, California was transformed into a "Burger Chef" for an episode of Mad Men, so you should plan a visit if you're feeling nostalgic.

Chris's Burgers in Rialto, California.Road Arch

5. Lum's

This restaurant's unusual signature dish was beer-steamed hot dogs, but it was actually their innovative glass doors that made this chain a success. By 1969, Lum's was so successful the owner's bought the Caesar's Palace casino for $60 million. Meanwhile, the chain switched hands and eventually went bankrupt.

Do you remember these restaurants? How about the rest of these chains...

6. Wetson's

Maybe this chain was a little derivative - after all, their mascot was a pair of clowns - but no one could compete with their 15 cent burgers (in 1959). Wetson's was mostly popular in New York, and after big brands like McDonald's and Burger King moved in on their territory the chain closed down.

7. Red Barn

The gimmick was silly, and it was embarrassing to order menu items like Big Barneys and Barnbusters, but this chain had its charms. It was purchased by Motel 6 in the 1980s and disappered soon after.

8. Woolworth's

This chain was actually a department store, but most locations had a lunch counter on the ground floor where families could enjoy classic American treats like apple pie, banana rolls, ice box cheesecake and peach cobbler with a cold soda. If you miss any of them, the recipes for these classic dishes have been collected online.

9. Gino's

One of the many fast food restaurants that used a sports theme to lure in customers, it was named for NFL Hall of Famer Gino Marchetti. People actually still obsess about their burger sauce, but Gino's was absorbed into the Roy Rogers chain.

The name was recycled for a new chain of restaurants in 2010, but it doesn't measure up to the original.

Their name is back, but not much else.Trip Advisor

10. Howard Johnson's

A whole generation of kids grew up with happy memories of stopping at HoJo's while on a road trip with their family. The first restaurant opened in 1925, and at the chain's peak in the 1960s there were 1,040 orange-roofed restaurants and another 500 motor inns, making it America's largest restaurant chain.

Sadly, cost-cutting measures turned customers away later that decade. The HoJo's empire was split up among a number of restaurant chains and hotel companies, and the last location closed their doors in 2016.

The last Howard Johnson's restaurant.Rosemarie Ward

11. Sandy's

Another McDonald's clone, Sandy's most distinctive feature was their Scottish theme. The chain merged with Hardee's in the early '80s.

12. White Tower

Most people assume White Towers turned into White Castle restaurants, but the chain was actually a shameless ripoff of White Castle. From the name and the look to their slogan ("take home a bagful" instead of "buy 'em by the sack") every detail was copied from White Castle's playbook.

An old White Tower location.Trademark and Copyright Law

A costly lawsuit for copyright infringement marked the beginning of the end for this brand, which finally shut down in 2004.

13. Henry's Hamburgers

These restaurants offered 10 burgers for a buck, which was a great deal even in the '60s. There were more than 200 Henry's spread out across the country, but they couldn't compete with bigger burger chains. There's still one location left open, in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

The last Henry's Hamburgers restaurant.Wikimedia

14. Sambo's

You can probably guess why this chain went out of business. It was a huge brand in the 1980s, with more than 1,100 locations, but profits started shrinking quickly. The restaurant's name, taken from a children's story about an Indian boy named "Little Black Sambo," contributed to the chain's speedy decline.

Certain locations were re-branded as Sam's or Jolly Tiger, but the brand was already poisoned.

15. Minnie Pearl's Fried Chicken

Another fried chicken chain inspired by a country star, this time Grand Ole Opry comedian Minnie Pearl was the famous name above the door. This chain expanded to over 500 locations in the blink of an eye during the 1960s, but their growth backfired because each franchise used a different chicken recipe.

Add in some tax troubles in 1968 that revealed the company owed $1 million, and this chain shut its doors just as fast as they opened.

Share this list if you remember eating in these restaurants!

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