We tend to think of the chain restaurant as a lumbering behemoth; an easily replicable, formulaic money machine that packs in customers no matter where they’re plunked down. They roll into town, open with great fanfare, and then proceed to serve the exact same food and drinks, with the exact same décor, service, and overall vibe, for years and years on end. Sure, the formula might get a tweak every so often when Corporate decides to update the image or roll out a new or limited-time-only menu item, but one of the comforts of having a chain restaurant nearby is the knowledge that, no matter what, you know what you’re getting.
But for every Applebee’s or Fridays, there are the ones that didn’t make it. For one reason or another, plenty of once-major restaurant chains fall off the face of the map, never to be heard from again. Some are bought out by larger companies and folded into existing assets, some hand the reins over to franchise owners, hoping for the best but really setting them up for a slow death, and some simply hang up a "Closed" sign and walk away. We’ve assembled a list of the 11 largest chain restaurants, ranked not only by amount of locations but also the amount of marketing and promotion that went into them, that are no longer with us.
Some of the restaurants in our list are still well-remembered, and in fact you might not have realized that a couple of them were gone for good. Take Chi-Chi’s, for example. Who doesn’t remember Chi-Chi’s? The chain, which once had more than 200 locations nationwide, now only exists in Europe and on bottles of supermarket salsa. And The All-Star Café, that bastion of '90s sports that had us seriously hoping that Ken Griffey Jr. would be sitting in the booth next to us, has been defunct for more than five years now.
For all the recently departed favorites, however, there are plenty more that came, conquered, and left before most of us were even born. Take Sambo’s, for example. At its peak in the late 1970s, the chain had well more than 1,000 locations in 47 states. Today, it’s been all but forgotten.
At the same time, some chain restaurants that we thought had been left for dead are getting a second wind. Take Bennigan's, for example. In 2008, after all the locations had closed, a new owner stepped in with a promise to return it to profitability. Today, a rebranded Bennigan's has 31 domestic and 44 international locations, with six more coming soon.
So read on to learn about some chains that simply didn’t make the cut. And remember the next time you’re at Applebee’s that one day it very well might go the way of Steak and Ale.
Dan Myers is the Eat/Dine Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @sirmyers.