20 Once-Famous Fast-Food Chains That Went Belly Up In A Big Way

These days, your fast-food choices are generally limited to a handful of major chains – McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell – or the odd independent restaurant. But back in the mid-20th century, when those names were just starting to take off, there were plenty of other businesses attempting to cash in on the franchise craze. From Red Barn to Chi-Chi’s, however, these once-famous chains all eventually capitulated for one reason or another – whether it was simply a poor business model or even an unfortunate viral outbreak.

20. Howard Johnson’s

Back in the 1920s, Howard Johnson’s was something of a pioneer for plenty of now common fast-food concepts, such as standardization, comfort food and even roadside locations. But as it paved the way for McDonald’s and KFC, those franchises’ focus on smaller menus and lower costs allowed them to offer a cheaper dining experience. And Howard Johnson’s ultimately paid the price, selling off and shutting down almost all its restaurants in the ’90s.

19. The Official All-Star Café

With themed restaurants all the rage in the early ’90s, including his own Planet Hollywood venture, businessman Robert Earl reckoned that a sports-themed restaurant would surely meet the same success. And with backing from athletes including Tiger Woods and Shaquille O’Neal, The Official All-Star Café opened in Times Square in 1995. But it didn’t last long – in four years, revenues tumbled, with sports proving not quite as family friendly as movies.

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18. VIP’s

With restaurants in just five states at its peak, VIP’s – a 24-hour Denny’s-style diner – may have passed you by. But at one point, it was actually the largest restaurant chain in Oregon and extended its reach to Nevada, California, Washington and Idaho. In 1982, however, it sold most of its locations to Denny’s, with the rest split up and sold by the 1990s.

17. Horn & Hardart

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Taking the lead from similar ventures in Berlin, Horn & Hardart was notable for being the U.S.’s first automat, where food was served by large vending machines. Its staple menu choices, including baked beans and macaroni and cheese, saw it take off in the Great Depression and thrive for decades. But in the 1960s, over-the-counter fast-food chains swept in, signalling the death knell for the automat.

16. Burger Chef

If Burger Chef sounds like an attempt to put an upmarket spin on Burger King, that’s because it’s exactly what it was. But the Indianapolis-born chain innovated elsewhere, becoming the first fast-food restaurant to introduce the idea of a combo meal. At its peak, it almost rivaled McDonald’s. Alas, a General Foods buyout in 1968 resulted in some poor business choices, ultimately leading to the slow demise of the brand.

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15. Isaly’s

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While actually named after its founder, William Isaly, the Midwestern fast-food chain’s marketing proclaimed Isaly’s stood for “I Shall Always Love You Sweetheart.” But the brand, which had several dairies, is more well  known for creating the Klondike Bar, as well as pioneering the modern convenience store through its retail arm, which sold gasoline alongside groceries. Unfortunately, Isaly’s was a victim of corporate consolidation in the 1960s, unable to compete with major brands.

14. Lum’s

Lum’s started life as a hot dog stand on Miami Beach, so it was fitting that its trademark menu item came to be hot dogs steamed in beer. After rapidly expanding in the 1960s, the restaurant chain was sold twice, eventually ending up under the control of Wienerwald Holdings in 1978. Unfortunately, that proved a step too far for the parent company, which filed for bankruptcy four years later.

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13. White Tower

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If White Tower looks familiar to you, it’s probably because it was basically a direct copy of White Castle. Indeed, a legal battle in the early 1930s found as much, with White Tower forced to change its slogan and even building designs, although it managed to keep its name. However, even with those issues, it was ultimately the migration of its customer base to the suburbs in the ’70s that spelled its end.

12. Royal Castle

White Tower wasn’t the only restaurant that White Castle inspired, however – the equally similarly named Royal Castle also took its lead from the chain, even offering similar miniature burgers. However, like most hamburger-focused fast-food outlets in the 20th century, it eventually lost out to the empires of McDonald’s and Burger King. Nowadays, just one location has survived in Miami, Florida.

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11. Red Barn

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If you don’t remember Red Barn, the clue was in the name: its restaurants were huge, barn-shaped buildings, painted red. Unfortunately, it lacked any other real hook beyond being the first major fast-food outlet to offer self-service salad bars. And despite a cult following that’s still around today, Red Barn’s novelty factor wasn’t enough to sustain it in the face of McDonald’s, and it closed down altogether in the late ’80s.

10. Minnie Pearl’s Chicken

In the eyes of former governor of Tennessee nominee John Jay Hooker, country singer Minnie Pearl was the Colonel Sanders to his own version of KFC. Unfortunately, Hooker and his franchisees didn’t have much actual restaurant experience. So while it was a huge success on paper, with stock prices rising fast, the reality didn’t hold water – and a government investigation into its assets eventually doomed the business in the early ’70s. Hooker, a Democrat, obviously blamed Nixon.

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9. Sambo’s

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Nobody today would ever be foolish enough to call their restaurant “Sambo’s.” But back in the ’50s, two guys did, apparently innocently combining parts of their own names to come up with the brand – blissfully unaware of the negative racial connotations. Protests ensued, and the name was quickly changed to “The Jolly Tiger” in certain areas. Nonetheless, neither that nor a misguided business model could save it from extinction.

8. D’Lites

As the name implied, D’Lites was a fast-food restaurant with a twist – it offered healthier, or “lite,” menu choices, including lower-calorie versions of traditional burgers. While it was initially a success, with 100 stores opening their doors in its first eight years of operations, it was scuppered when the bigger chains caught on and began selling salads. By 1986 the company filed for bankruptcy.

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7. Henry’s Hamburgers

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Seeing the success of McDonald’s, Bresler’s Ice Cream strode into the fast-food market in the 1950s with Henry’s Hamburgers. The restaurant’s low-price offers, including “ten burgers for a buck,” gave it some success in the early ’60s. Unfortunately, it couldn’t keep up with the times, neglecting to add drive-thru and diversify its menu. Add to that a controversy over horse meat and corporate interference, and the writing was on the wall in the mid-’70s.

6. Chi-Chi’s

While Chi-Chi’s still exists in a couple of European countries, the U.A.E. and Kuwait, it’s long gone from U.S. shores. The Mexican chain filed for bankruptcy in 2003, and a month later, the biggest hepatitis A outbreak in American history was traced back to a Pennsylvania branch. After several lawsuits, every last one of its U.S. stores closed for good in 2004.

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5. Pup ‘N’ Taco

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As the name suggests, Pup ‘N’ Taco served up a strange combo of tacos and hot dogs, alongside burgers, pastrami sandwiches and tostadas. Seemingly, though, something about it appealed, as it quickly expanded in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Alas, it was actually a victim of its own success, with many of its stores situated in such perfect locations that Taco Bell acquired almost the entire lot in 1984.

4. Valle’s Steak House

Valle’s Steak House may no longer be a household name, but it actually operated for a whopping 67 years until it shut up shop in 2000. Indeed, its low-margin business model that prized efficiency in its restaurants saw it boom in the late ’60s. When its founder Donald Valle died in 1977, however, inheritance taxes forced his family to liquidate the business, and a faltering economy, high running costs and poor adaptability eventually killed the chain.

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3. Beefsteak Charlie’s

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Beefsteak Charlie’s has two slogans, both of which pointed to its initial success: “I’ll feed you like there’s no tomorrow,” and “You’re gonna get spoiled.” Indeed, its marketing played heavily on its all-you-can-eat salad bar and bottomless servings of sangria, wine and beer. However, a series of corporate mergers eventually led to its restaurants closing down altogether just after the turn of the millennium.

2. Steak and Ale

The original upscale steakhouse chain, Steak and Ale’s selling point when it arrived in 1966 was its classy experience – with dimly lit restaurants – at an affordable price. Alas, the other brands it inspired ultimately did it better, and by 2008 it had closed for good. Nevertheless, in 2015 its parent company was bought out by another fast-food chain, Bennigan’s, which now offers franchisees the chance to “Own a Steak and Ale.”

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1. Doggie Diner

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Doggie Diner may have been contained to San Francisco and Oakland, but that didn’t stop it enjoying nearly four decades of success, thanks in part to its endearing signage: a seven-feet-tall fiberglass dachshund head, decked out with a chef’s hat and bow tie. Its eventual collapse in 1986 was a tale as old as time, though, as it failed to keep up with the giants of Burger King and McDonald’s.

But the foods taking you back to your childhood aren’t from the menus of these popular chains, of course. Remember Jell-O 1-2-3, Doritos 3D’s and Triple Treat ice cream? These were the products that once ruled the grocery store roost – but now, they’re nowhere to be found. So, here are 20 delicious treats that may well make you long for simpler times.

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20. Triple Treat Ice Cream

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Ice cream coated in chocolate isn’t really anything special these days. Add a layer of marshmallow to those two elements, however, and it all becomes a lot more exciting. And ’70s-era dessert Triple Treat delivered on its name through its enticing caramel and strawberry flavors.

19. Hershey’s Bar None

In 1987 Hershey’s launched its latest candy: the Bar None – a medley of wafer, peanuts and chocolate that satiated many a sweet tooth. Then, in 1993 the confectionery giants tinkered with a winning recipe. And after caramel was included in the mix, and the treat was split into two, the Bar None ultimately went the way of the dodo.

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18. Marathon

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True to their product’s name, the commercials for Marathon emphasized the need to take things slow. After all, this solid bar of chocolate-coated caramel really wasn’t one you could sprint your way through eating – at least, if you valued your teeth. Alas, the Marathon only stuck around for eight years before disappearing entirely in 1981.

17. Jell-O Lemon Chiffon Pie Filling

If you had some ready-made pastry to hand, this instant pie filling was a real timesaver back in the late ’50s. All you had to do was mix in a little sugar and water to the product. Sounds tempting, right? Well, for the convenience, it was probably hard to beat. Unfortunately, though, Jell-O discontinued the lemon flavor in 1969.

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16. Sugar Jets

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Sometime around the start of the ’60s, Sugar Jets landed on the cereal aisle with backing from Betty Crocker and Rocky and Bullwinkle. And while the “sugar-frosted oat ’n’ wheat puffs” went through several changes over the years – including swapping the ball shapes for jet aircraft miniatures and dropping “sugar” from the name – they ultimately vanished in the late ’70s.

15. Hires Root Beer

Once upon a time, you could grab a bottle of Hires at plenty of soda and beer outlets as well as some grocery stores and supermarkets. In 1989, though, the family brand was snapped up by Cadbury Schweppes, which had its own root beer line, A&W. And, somewhat inevitably, Hires was therefore gradually phased out altogether.

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14. Quisp and Quake

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In 1965 Quaker Oats launched what it called a “breakfast feud” between two brand-new cereals: Quake and Quisp. And even though the two products were ostensibly almost identical, the marketing campaign doubled down on the rivalry, with a pair of cartoon mascots each fronting their respective brand’s boxes. Then, seven years later, the public voted Quisp the best, and Quake was subsequently withdrawn from sale.

13. Birds Eye Sodaburst Instant Ice Cream Soda

Picture 1950s America, and you’ll likely conjure up images of jukeboxes, diners and soda fountains. And Birds Eye briefly tried to capture the classic ice cream soda in its “Sodaburst,” which popped up on shelves in 1963. All you had to do was add water; the convenience apparently wasn’t worth the price, however.

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12. Nabisco Ideal Cookie Bars

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Who’d have thought that a simple chocolate-and-peanut bar would prove so popular? Well, it may have had something to do with the shredded coconut used in the recipe – at least, according to an ex-employee. There’s even a Facebook group with nearly 2,000 likes campaigning to bring Nabisco Ideal bars back.

11. Campbell’s Ramen Noodles

When Campbell’s entered the ramen noodle market in the ’90s, it offered a wider variety of flavors than its rivals. And the company’s ramen products also came with far less fat and salt packed in thanks to them being baked rather than fried. But those benefits came at a high price, and so by 2005 the noodle range had been discontinued.

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10. Whip ’n Chill

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A quick skim through Whip ’n Chill’s ingredients may offer a clue as to why the product is no longer around. After all, the mousse-like substance was made up of such unappetizing-seeming components as “sodium caseinate” and “propylene glycol monostearate.” Even the name sounds less like a food and more like an industrial process. But in the ’60s, Whip ’n Chill was – briefly – all the rage.

9. Snackin’ Cake

For when regular cake mix was just too much hassle, there was Snackin’ Cake – in the 1970s, anyway. And the product took all the effort out of what was already a shortcut to dessert, allowing you to whip up a quick gateau in a single pan using only a fork. There were even a bunch of different flavors to try, including banana walnut and chocolate chip.

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8. Cherry Hump Candy Bar

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Fruit and chocolate don’t always mix well, but the Cherry Hump appeared to be an exception to that rule. In fact, the chocolate-coated cherry bar was a huge hit for a big chunk of the 20th century until its manufacturer was bought out by the Brock Candy Company in 1971. Then, 16 years later, the firm discontinued Cherry Humps for good.

7. Jell-O 1-2-3

If you are of a certain age, then chances are that you enjoyed the delights of Jell-O 1-2-3. After all, the treat stuck around for 27 years before being discontinued in 1996, so there was plenty of time in which to tuck in. If you’re unfamiliar with the product, though, the “1-2-3” referred to the three layers of the dessert: cream, mousse and Jell-O.

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6. Doritos 3D’s

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Imagine taking regular Doritos and pumping them full of air. Well, the result would be Doritos 3D’s, which landed in grocery stores in 1998 before vanishing five years later. Still, the chips apparently made so much of an impact that eBay sellers still import them from Mexico, where the savory snacks are sold to this day.

5. Keebler Magic Middle Cookies

Biting into a cookie only to find a heavenly chocolate center? Sign us up. Only you can’t, because Keebler Magic Middles are long gone. They were clearly loved, though, because there’s a Facebook page with over 2,300 likes petitioning to bring them back. There’s even a recipe out there so that you can replicate the cookies at home.

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4. Life Savers Holes

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If you’ve ever asked yourself where the center holes in Life Savers ended up, the answer was “to be sold separately.” Yes, these tubes of Life Savers leftovers, which made a distinctive clacking noise when shaken, were marketed as the holes missing from their parent candy. But even though the treat was apparently a hit with kids, it didn’t stick around for long.

3. Nestlé Wonder Balls

Nestlé’s Wonder Balls started life in the mid-’90s as Magic Balls – hollow chocolate spheres with tiny plastic toys inside. And while worried parents who thought kids would swallow the toys then prompted the candy to be removed from shelves, the confection eventually returned in 2000 as Wonder Balls – this time with candy in the middle. Unfortunately, though, Wonder Balls would vanish in 2004 after rights to the product were purchased by the Frankford Candy & Chocolate Company.

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2. OK Soda

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“Everything is going to be OK,” assured the tagline for Coca-Cola’s OK Soda, an early ’90s product targeted at Generation X. Apparently, however, that blind optimism didn’t carry over to the sales of the fruit-flavored soft drink, which faltered in the initial testing phase. And as a result, OK never reached nationwide distribution in the U.S. and was shelved completely in 1995.

1. Mickey’s Parade Ice Pops

Back in the 1990s, ice cream manufacturer Good Humor began selling ice pops shaped like classic Disney characters Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Pluto and Donald Duck. Not long after, though, the company lost the rights to the characters, and Mickey’s Parade was no more. But that said, the ice pops still have a cult following to this day.

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