The 15 Biggest Failed Restaurant Chains

Some of the once-biggest names in the chain restaurant world are no longer with us
Howard Johnson's

Wikimedia Commons/ Alex Lines

Howard Johnson's was once a major American culinary fixture, but is today down to only two locations.

For every immensely successful restaurant chain, like Applebee’s or T.G.I. Friday’s, 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 earth, never to be heard from again. Here are 15 chains that, for one reason or another, have largely gone the way of the dodo.

The 15 Biggest Failed Restaurant Chains (Slideshow)

We tend to think of chain restaurants as too big to fail; easily replicable, formulaic money machines that will always pull a hefty crowd. 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 chains can fail for a whole host of reasons.  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.

Some of the restaurants on our list are still well-remembered, and, in fact, you might not have realized that a couple of them are 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 nearly ten years.

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 all but forgotten, with just one outlet left.

At the same time, some chain restaurants that we thought had been left for dead are getting a second wind. 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 17 domestic and 26 international locations, climbing its way back from square one. And not all of the chains on our list are completely done for; some still have a token few locations remaining, and revivals of others are (supposedly) in the works.

So read on to learn about some chains that, while once popular, are no longer with us in their original form. And remember the next time you’re at Applebee’s that one day it very well might go the way of Steak and Ale. 

Click here for 15 failed chains.

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