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.
The mom and pop who founded Applebee’s were Bill and T.J. Palmer, a married couple who opened the first location with a $50,000 loan under a slightly longer name (we’ll get to that in a bit) in Decatur, Georgia, on November 9, 1980. It was an immediate success, and a few years later they opened a second location on Buford Highway outside Atlanta before selling the company to chemical conglomerate W.R. Grace and Company in 1983. Bill stayed on as president of the company, guiding it to become a successful franchise system. If you’re interested in a full behind-the-scenes look at its early years, we suggest you check out this site, a thorough and fascinating play-by-play written by T.J.
The main concept of the restaurant was simple: Its founders intended it to be a place that diners could treat as their local neighborhood restaurant. In 1986, the name of the chain was officially changed from T.J. Applebee’s to Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar. A pair of Kansas City franchisees purchased the company from W.R. Grace and Company in 1988, and from 1993 to 2005 it saw unprecedented growth, opening 100 or more new locations yearly. In 2007, the chain was purchased by IHOP for $2.1 billion, and together the two formed DineEquity, Applebee’s current parent company; nearly every single location of both IHOP and Applebee’s are franchisee-owned.
Today, there are more than 1,500 Applebee’s locations worldwide, in countries including Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras, Greece, Indonesia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, China, and Egypt. The company is constantly reinventing itself; five years ago they unveiled a “revitalization” concept, with updated interiors and exteriors featuring warmer colors, neighborhood-specific features, and new menu items. Applebee’s may never return to its roots as a neighborhood mom-and-pop, but they’ve certainly done a good job of making each location look like one. Read on for 10 things you didn’t know about the chain.
It Was Inspired by a Visit to an Atlanta Hotspot Named Billy’s
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.
Several Other Names Were Considered Before Applebee’s
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.