Fast Food and Chain Restaurants We Loved That Are Now History

Chain and fast food restaurants have come and gone across the American landscape. For many Americans, we grew up with these brands, their food and their commercials on television and radio. They were, at one point, a part of our lives. Now, they are nothing more than memories. These are the fast food and chain restaurants that we grew up with that are now history or could soon be entering the history books.
Howard Johnson’s
 Howard Johnson’s
Wikipedia
As the American highway system was completed there became a familiar site along those highways, a Howard Johnson’s. The company was started in the 1920s as a lunch counter/soda fountain. It continued to grow until it went public in 1961 with over 600 restaurants and 88 motels. It was one of America’s first major restaurant chains and it was hit hard by the emergence of fast food as Americans decided they didn’t want to wait for food service at a table. There are two Howard Johnson restaurants left, one in Bangor, Maine and one in Lake Placid, NY.
Sambo’s
 Sambo’s
Flickr
Opened in 1957 by Sam Battistone and Newell F. Bohnet in Santa Monica, Calif. The name was a combination of Sam and Bo from Bohnet but many people took offense to the name which was used as a derogatory term towards African-Americans. What made matters worse was the decision to do up the décor of the restaurant with scenes from the children’s book ‘Little Black Sambo.’ Still, Sambo’s had a lot of success early on. Eventually there were over 1,100 locations by the 1980s. The name controversy stuck around though and in the early 1980s they decided to rename 650 restaurants to Season’s Friendly Eating. It wasn’t long before they were sold to Denny’s while others shut down. There is still one remaining Sambo’s in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Kenny Rogers Roasters
 Kenny Rogers Roasters
Wikipedia
Country singer Kenny Rogers and KFC founder John Y. Brown got together in 1991 and launched Kenny Rogers Roasters. It didn’t last very long though, despite people liking the food. The market just didn’t have enough room for another rotisserie chicken chain and by 1998 it was bankrupt and sold to Nathan’s. There is one Kenny Rogers still open in Ontario, Calif. but the company, now owned by a Malaysian outfit, is doing well in Asia. At least there will always be that ‘Seinfeld’ episode so Kenny Rogers Roasters will live on.
Minnie Pearl’s
 Minnie Pearl’s
Wikipedia
Started by John Jay Hooker in 1966 and with Grand Ole Opry legend Minnie Pearl’s name, the fried chicken restaurant chain enjoyed early success. More than 500 locations were opened and even more franchised out, there seemed to be a Minnie Pearl’s ready to pop up everywhere. The problem was there was no structure, especially when it came to the chicken recipe. When it comes to fast food you absolutely need consistency and when you can’t even get the same recipe used in all of your stores you aren’t going to last long. There were also some issues with investors right out of the gate and the whole plan collapsed only a couple of years after opening.
The All-American Burger
 The All-American Burger
YouTube
This was a regional chain but the entire country got to know The All-American Burger in the 80s classic ‘Fast Times At Ridgemont High.’ It was founded in 1968 in Los Angeles by Aaron Binder. The last restaurant was replaced by a Chipotle in Hollywood in 2010.
White Tower
 White Tower
Pinterest
If this sounds like White Castle it is because it was designed to be just like White Castle, the country’s first fast-food burger chain which was founded in 1921. In 1926, John E. Saxe and his son, Thomas, opened a rival to White Castle in Milwaukee, Wisc. They copied everything from White Castle including the turrets, the burgers, advertising slogans. Eventually there were 130 White Towers in the country but White Castle brought the lawsuits. White Tower was forced to change its restaurant architecture and pay $82,000. There were eventually 230 White Towers in the 1950s before starting to fade. The last White Tower shut its doors in Toledo, Ohio in 2004.
Chi-Chi’s
 Chi-Chi’s
Wikipedia
Opened in 1976 by Marno McDermitt and former NFL star Max McGee, Chi-Chi’s brought Mexican cuisine to many towns in America that had no idea what they had been missing. You couldn’t resist their nachos and other delicious dishes that were cranked out in a highly modern kitchen that had food on your table in less than 10 minutes. Their success was also partly their undoing. Many other Mexican restaurants opened in its wake and dried up the cash flow. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2003 and then the final door was shuttered after some food was tainted with Hepatitis A that resulted in over 650 diners getting sick and three dying. Chi-Chi’s now only exists on grocery store shelves as their salsa and other condiments were bought by Hormel.
Lum’s
 Lum’s
Wikipedia
Started in 1956 by two brothers, Clifford and Stuart Pearlman, they purchased a restaurant in Miami, put in clear glass doors and found success. They credit their clear glass doors, which made their restaurant more inviting, for their success. By 1971 there were 400 Lum’s serving hot dogs steamed in beer to the masses. The Pearlmans sold the chain to KFC owner John Y. Brown for a cool $4 million, a pleasant turnaround from their original $12,000 investment. The last Lum’s closed its doors in 2009 in Davie, Fla.
Steak and Ale
 Steak and Ale
Wikipedia
This was the creation of Norman Brinker, the man who brought us Jack in the Box and Chili’s. Steak and Ale began in 1966 in Dallas and thought it could give conventional full-service restaurants a run for their money by offering cheap steak, think $1.95 for filet mignon. Combine that with the first self-serve salad bar and the place was a hit. There were 109 restaurants across 24 states by the time Brinker sold the franchise. Tons of restaurants similar to Steak and Ale opened in the wake of its success and actually ended up beating it out. The last few restaurants closed in 2009.
Gino’s Hamburgers
 Gino’s Hamburgers
YouTube
Founded in 1957 by NFL Hall of Famer Gino Marchetti, Gino’s Hamburgers merged sports and fast food in a way that no other had done previously. There were 330 restaurants in 1972. In 1982 Marriott purchased the chain and turned them into Roy Rogers’. However, Gino’s might be making a small comeback as Marchetti opened a new restaurant in 2010 with hopes of making it a chain. We shall see how well he does this time around.
Burger Chef
 Burger Chef
YouTube
If you grew up in the 1980s you might have caught this once formidable chain on the way out. However, it was, at one time, the rival to McDonald’s and had over 1,200 stores at one point. It helped revolutionize the way fast food was done. The kid’s meal with a toy? That was their idea, beating McDonald’s by six years. They had a conveyor belt that was able to roll out 800 burgers per hour. They were too quick to expand and ended up getting bought out by Hardee’s in 1981.
Bob’s Big Boy
 Bob’s Big Boy
Wikipedia
Bob’s Big Boy was a staple along the highways and byways of America. Today, there are just over 100 locations across just a handful of states, mostly in the Midwest. It probably won’t leave our life for good but for most of us the Big Boy statue is just a memory.
Bennigans
 Bennigans
Bennigans
Established in 1976, Bennigans seemed to pop up in every town in America. The corporation went out of business and was bought by a few franchisees who are trying to bring Bennigans back. There are 23 left in 11 states.
Ponderosa/Bonanza
 Ponderosa/Bonanza
Wikipedia
Ponderosa and Bonanza steakhouses once numbered in the hundreds across the country. Today there are just 17 left across the United States.
Charlie Brown’s
 Charlie Brown’s
Flickr
Charlie Brown’s is a regional chain found mostly in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. The corporation went out of business but franchise owners kept their doors open. They might survive but they won’t get back to where they used to be, as one of the growing chains of the 1980s.