20 Defunct Restaurant Chains That Are Sorely Missed

There are countless restaurant chains in America from the last century. Some had a glorious past before the bankruptcy, while others seemed never to have been noticed. Check their details here and see if there are any chains you are familiar with.

1. Howard Johnson's

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The Howard Johnson's chain of restaurants was founded in 1925. Their orange roofs were a distinctive sight on the side of the highway. It was the largest restaurant chain in the U.S. from the 1960s to 1970s, with more than 1,000 franchised outlets. However, they have since disappeared in just a few decades due to a failed business strategy.

2. Carrols Restaurants

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Many people may not know that Carrols was a fast food chain that predated McDonald's and Burger King in the 1960s. However, in 1976, it was forced to transform into a Burger King due to the stiff competition. Now it has become the largest Burger King franchisee in the world.

3. Kenny Rogers' Roasters

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This chicken-based restaurant chain was launched in 1990 by the country singer Kenny Rogers and his business partner John Y. Brown. For some reason, they were never quite successful enough to make waves in the market, even with an extremely popular menu. Eventually, the Roasters restaurants were sold off to Nathan's in 1998.

4. Minnie Pearl's Chicken

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In the 1960s, businessman John Jay Hooker founded a chicken fast food chain by using the name of Minnie Pearl, an American comedian. The restaurant chain was established to compete with Kentucky Fried Chicken. Unfortunately, it collapsed within a few years because of accounting irregularities and stock price manipulation.

5. The All-American Burger

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This one was a regional restaurant chain in southern California. It became famous when it appeared in the popular 1980s teen film Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Sadly, the last branch store on the west coast was closed in 2010, but there is another restaurant with the same name and logo in Long Island. You can try it out to check if it tastes the same.

6. White Tower

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White Tower was actually an imitation of another popular restaurant, White Castle. The founders John E. Saxe and his son Thomas copied White Castle's menu, advertising, and even the signature look of its restaurants. In its heyday, there were 230 White Towers. Of course, White Castle didn't tolerate their plagiarism. After being forced to make changes, White Tower died soon afterwards.

7. Chi-Chi's

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This one was a Mexican food chain launched in the 1970s by Marno McDermitt and the NFL star Max McGee. It grew very fast and became hugely successful over the next several decades. However, tragically three customers died of Hepatitis due to a contamination in the food supply of Chi-Chi's in 2003. Because of the incident, its properties were sold off soon afterwards in 2004.

8. Lum's

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Lum's was established in Florida by Brothers Clifford and Stuart Pearlman in 1971. It was famous for its "beer-steamed" hot dogs and its unique storefront. The Pearlmans opened 400 locations but finally sold this chain to KFC for $4 million. It was utterly phased out and they closed their doors in 2009.

9. Steak And Ale

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Steak and Ale was an innovative restaurant chain of its time. It brought forward a totally new concept of a cheap steak and salad bar. This concept was a great success and became extremely popular. But at the same time, many other restaurants also copied the idea and improved upon it, which ultimately caused the failure of Steak and Ale.

10. Red Barn

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Red Barn is well known for its distinctive barn-styled architecture and Big Barney burgers. In the middle of the 20th century, there were over 300 restaurants in the U.S. as well as many other locations in Canada and Australia. However, corporate ownership ceased financial support to the chain in the 1980s, and most of the Red Barn locations were closed soon afterwards.

11. Henry's Hamburgers

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This is another restaurant chain that wanted to copy the success of McDonald's. Henry's did get some success from the 50s to 70s. It had over 200 locations, which was even more than McDonald's had at the time. However, the competition was always fierce. Henry's couldn't adapt to the industry's changes and finally fell into decline.

12. Valle's Steak House

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Valle's Steak House was a steak and lobster restaurant chain on the East Coast from 1933 to 2000. Unfortunately, it was affected by a gas crisis in the 1970s that resulted in an economic downturn and led to increasing labor costs. The last Valle's Steak House was closed in August 2000.

13. Burger Chef

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This chain began operating in 1954 in Indianapolis. It had 1,050 locations in 1973 at its peak. The Big Shef and Super Shef hamburgers were its signature dishes. However, due to some bad business practices, it was finally sold to Hardee's in 1981. The last restaurant to carry the name of Burger Chef was closed in 1996.

14. Mr. Steak

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Mr. Steak was a very popular steakhouse chain in the 70s. It operated nearly 300 locations across the U.S. at its peak. Unfortunately, it was still not competitive enough because its steaks were said to be less juicy compared with other restaurants'. Therefore, Mr. Steak folded soon after bankruptcy in 1987.

15. Wetson's

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The founder Herb Wetanson launched Wetson's after being inspired by the original McDonald's on a road trip. At the beginning, the chain was a massive success, but it was no match for McDonald's or Burger King. When they aggressively expanded in the 1970s, Wetson's was in bad shape and finally became no more than a memory.

16. Bennigan's

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Bennigan's was one of the earliest American casual dining and sports-bar chains. But they were always a bit behind other similar contemporary restaurant chains. It was sold many times before filing for bankruptcy in 2008. Now there are 23 locations left in the U.S. under a new ownership.

17. Rax Roast Beef

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Rax Roast Beef is a regional fast-food chain and was very successful in the 80s. The introduction of salad bars and other food stations quickly boosted its popularity. However, due to mismanagement, Rax has now extensively scaled down its operations since the early 1990s. Now there are only 5 locations still in operation.

18. Charlie Brown's Steakhouse

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Charlie Brown's was founded in 1966 in Warren, New Jersey. The signature dish was prime rib and the house salad. It became very successful in the 80s and 90s. However, it has been sold many times since 1997, and many locations were closed. Currently, the restaurant chain has 16 operating restaurants in New Jersey and New York.

19. Naugles

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Naugles was very popular from 1970 to 1995 with many locations all over the United States. This Mexican fast-food chain had great service, which can be seen from its motto: "Prepare food fresh. Serve customer fast. Keep place clean!" Even so, it still faced gradual decline. In 1995, the last location in Nevada was closed.

20. Druther's

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This fast-food joint had another famous name, Burger Queen. It was based in Louisville, Kentucky and operated between 1963 and 1981. Its well known mascot was a giant bee called Queenie Bee. Although Druther's has been defunct for a long time, there is still one location left in Campbellsville, Kentucky.

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