Applebee’s is one of those chain restaurants that you really don’t give much thought to. Even if you’re a regular, it probably just seems like one day it appeared, fully realized, in the universe. But in reality, Applebee’s got its start as a “mom and pop” restaurant, and there are most likely a lot of other things you didn’t know about this major national chain.
In the late 1970s, one of the hottest restaurant chains in Atlanta was called Billy’s. Bill and T.J. Palmer, who were interested in owning a restaurant that served food and spirits, visited a location and saw how hopping it was. Wanting in, they took out a $20,000 loan and bought into the worst-performing Billy’s, quickly turning its sales around. Billy’s management took the restaurant back and refunded the couple’s money with a bad check. Devastated, the Palmers decided to venture out on their own, and today Billy’s has been forgotten while Applebee’s is a household name.
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Bill Palmer wanted the new restaurant’s name to be Appleby’s, but it was already registered in the state of Georgia. T.J. Palmer looked into Cinnamon’s and Peppers, but those were registered, too. So they changed the spelling of Appleby’s to Applebee’s and tacked T.J. to the front of it, which provided enough of a differentiation to be licensed.
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The duo didn’t want the restaurant to be the same old bar and grill, so they replaced the word “bar” with “elixirs” and “grill” with “edibles.” So the restaurant’s original name was T.J. Applebee’s Edibles and Elixirs.
Just about every popular ‘80s finger food was on the original menu, including fried mushrooms; chicken fingers; potato skins; fries; onion rings; and nachos with chili (T.J.’s recipe), cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes piled high, which is still one of the most popular menu items. But a couple other ‘80s fad dishes that made the menu are long gone: quiche and quail. Gumbo was also a top-seller.
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The chain has hired some rather high-profile talent for its commercials: You may remember Wanda Sykes’ “Get it together, baby!”; the recognizable voice of John Corbett (of Northern Exposure, Sex and the City, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame) graced commercials for a while; and SNL’s Jason Sudeikis is the current voice-over talent.
Every large chain restaurant is bound to be sued for one reason or another, but there have been a few high-profile lawsuits brought against Applebee’s in recent years. There is an ongoing class-action lawsuit by former employees who claim to have been paid below minimum wage, a father is suing the chain over the choking death of his 48-year-old son, and a lawsuit against the chain in which a man burned his face while attempting to pray over a hot plate of fajitas was recently thrown out of court.
Looking to eat healthy at Applebee’s? Don’t order the New England fish and chips, which is the most calorie-laden dish on the entire menu. It contains 1,970 calories, 136 grams of fat, 24 grams of saturated fat, 4,180 grams of sodium, and 134 grams of carbohydrates. The healthiest entrée on the menu is the Pepper-Crusted Sirloin & Whole Grains, which contains just 350 calories and 10 grams of fat.