At the conclusion of this post is my list of memorable restaurant chains that are no longer with us. As a kid I thought many of these were the top of the town in terms of dining.
Today, as an urban planner, I know that many of these chains were once the epitome of strip commercial development that has so often degraded downtown shopping and dining areas across our country. Others (Howard Johnson’s, Dutch Pantry, Sambo’s, and Nickerson Farms) were early adopters of locating at exits along the newly constructed Interstate Highway System.
An interesting aspect of the list is the dining categories that a number of the chains fall into. These could represent changing American palates, lack of foresight of emerging trends, changing demographics, or very intense competition within the specific classifications.
- steak houses (Mr. Steak, Steak and Ale, Rustler, and Victoria Station)
- early highway commercial (listed above)
- regional hamburger (Burger Chef and Burger Queen)
- ice cream (Bresler’s, Farrells, Howard Johnson’s, and Islay’s)
- cafeterias (Laughner’s, Morrison’s, and S and W)
While I would have like to have cited some individual restaurants too, most would not have been recognizable unless you also lived where I have. In some instances there may be an individual or a few locations from these former chains that are still operating here and there yet today.
- Bill Knapp’s
- Bresler’s Ice Cream
- Burger Chef– hometown chain bought out by Hardees. Loved their fixings bar that let you create your own masterpiece.
- Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlours – this used to be a great place to go for birthdays as a kid.
- Howard Johnson’s – ruled the ice cream world, but did not keep up with the times. Loved going here as a kid – grilled cheese and a vanilla milkshake – yummy. Forever known for their orange roof. The lodging portion still remains with us, but much less prominent than the 1960s and 70s.
- Huddle – you would think this chain would have a football them, but it did not. Another hometown favorite that is gone.
- J Ross Browne’s Whaling Station
- Kenny Roger’s Roasters – even Seinfeld could not save this chain.
- Laughner’s Cafeteria – another hometown chain that is gone.
- Mr. Steak
- Nickerson Farms– familiar site along highways of the Midwest when I was young.
- Rustler Steak House
- S and W Cafeterias
- Sambo’s (awful name)
- Showbiz Pizza Place
- Sister’s Chicken and Biscuits – started in Columbus, Ohio in the early 1980s. Chicken was much better than KFC.
- Steak and Ale
- Victoria Station– loved the adaptive reuse of old railroad cars.