in

What Happened To These Defunct Fast Food Chains? 

There’s nothing like the craveable treats from your favorite fast food chain.

sambo's fast food sign

Whether you love french fries, fried chicken, tacos, or slices of pizza, fast food chains deliver reliable and affordable food wherever you are.

While some fast food chains enjoy global prominence, others satisfy customers for a short span.

Defunct fast food chains represent a diverse list of cuisines, regions, and motivations for delivering their unique spin on convenience foods. 

Learn the inside scoop on these defunct fast food chains, from Burger Chef to Doggie Diner and D’Lites.


Burger Chef

Burger Chef began slinging burgers in 1954 before it closed for good in 1996.

At the peak of its popularity in the early 1970s, Burger Chef operated 1,200 locations across 39 states.

Burger Chef’s founders patented the flame broiler, which became the foundation for its limited menu of burgers and fries.

The remaining Burger Chef restaurants transitioned into Hardee’s chains


Henry’s Hamburgers

From the 1950s to the 1970s, Henry’s Hamburgers dominated the country with more than 200 nationwide locations.

This defunct fast food chain’s menu featured cheeseburgers, chili dogs, catfish, and deep-fried mushrooms.

Henry’s still operates one charming original restaurant in Michigan that I love to visit, complete with plenty of old-fashioned charm.


Lum’s

This former fast food chain began as a Florida hot dog stand in the late 1950s.

Lum’s signature item was a hot dog steamed in beer. At its peak, Lum’s operated 400 stores across the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe.

The chain eventually filed for bankruptcy in 1983. 


Pup ‘N’ Taco

In my opinion, Pup ‘N’ Taco, a defunct fast-food chain from Long Beach, remains one of the most lovable failed restaurants.

In addition to Mexican fast food favorites like tacos and tostadas, this unique menu also featured hot dogs and pastrami sandwiches.

Taco Bell purchased 99 franchise locations in 1984, leading to the chain’s eventual closure.


Red Barn

The Red Barn chain was born in Ohio in 1961. This innovative chain became the first to invent classic chain restaurant fixtures, like a self-serve salad bar.

Red Barn is also remembered for pioneering signature burgers like the Barnbuster and Big Barney, which paved the way for the Whopper and Big Mac.


Wimpy’s Grill

Wimpy’s Grill appeared nearly 20 years earlier than many of the defunct fast food chains on this list.

This Indiana chain was founded in 1934 and expanded to a peak of 25 locations in the mid-1950s before folding in 1977.

Wimpy’s served burgers, chicken, and french fries inspired by the Popeye character.


Steak and Ale

Steak and Ale elevated fast food fare to include signature items like prime rib, filet mignon, and pasta.

This steakhouse combined a fast food mentality for a rich meal at an affordable price.

See also  15 Must-try Menu Items at Buc-ee’s

Every dinner entree usually came with an unlimited salad bar. Steak and Ale closed its remaining 58 national locations in 2008 after filing for bankruptcy.


Sambo’s

This chain also emerged in the mid-1950s during the prime era of fast food chains.

Sambo’s featured traditional diner fare like fried chicken, breakfast classics, and entree salads. 

This chain operated more than 1,100 restaurants in 1979. A few individual restaurants remain near Santa Barbara, its city of origin.


All Star Café

Planet Hollywood branched out to celebrate sports celebrities with its fast food chain All Star Café.

The restaurant featured heaps of sports memorabilia and was endorsed by athletes like Wayne Gretzky and Ken Griffey Jr.

The chain offered stadium food favorites like pizza and nachos. All Star Cafe debuted in Times Square in 1995 before closing in 2007.


Chi-Chi’s

As a child growing up in the Midwest, Mexican food was a mystery to me.

I experienced this cuisine for the first time through Chi-Chi’s restaurant, a chain founded in Minnesota in 1975.

Chi-Chi’s featured Tex-Mex selections like queso dip and fried ice cream before declaring bankruptcy and folding in 2004.


Doggie Diner

The massive, 300-pound fiberglass dog head loomed over the cute entrance to every location of the small collection of Doggie Diners, a San Francisco-based hot dog chain. 

This cheerful mascot helped Doggie Diner serve hundreds of its signature hot dogs until it closed its Bay Area locations in 1986.

I love seeing the Doggie Diner heads pop up still today around San Francisco.


Gino’s Hamburgers

Former professional football players developed Gino’s Hamburgers, a fast food chain from Baltimore.

Beginning in 1957, Gino’s Hamburgers served its iconic Sirloiner burger, made from sirloin steak and fried chicken, with its own famous recipe.

This chain did not stray far from its Baltimore roots and closed in 1982.


Pizza Haven

Seattle joins this list with Pizza Haven, founded in 1958. Pizza Haven is remembered for introducing the idea of delivering pizzas.

However, instead of pizzas being made to order, Pizza Haven outfitted delivery vehicles with warming ovens so drivers could rush to the home of someone who placed an order.


Pumper Nic

The first internationally defunct fast food chain on this list is Pumper Nic.

Founded in Argentina in 1974, the last restaurant closed in 1999.

Pumper Nic ranks as a cult classic in the South American country, remembered for menu items like an egg sandwich called the mobur. Pumper Nic was Argentina’s first franchise.


Wetson’s

From the 1950s to the 1970s, fast food lovers in New York state could enjoy Wetson’s 15-cent burgers “by the bagful.”

This classic burger chain borrowed several inspirations from burger chains that outpaced Wetson’s, including adding two clown mascots similar to McDonald’s.

After failing to compete with larger chains, Wetson’s closed in 1975.


White Tower Hamburgers

White Tower Hamburgers sounds a lot like the chain White Castle, and for good reason.

The Milwaukee-based founder of White Tower researched how White Castle worked to operate its own burger chain.

See also  Most Popular Items to Order at Panda Express

This approach proved successful, with the final White Tower location closing in 2022, almost 100 years after the chain was established.


Beefsteak Charlie’s

The original Beefsteak Charlie’s debut in 1914, and the chain version emerged in 1976.

This New York-based chain featured signature steak sandwiches and an unlimited salad bar.

Other unlimited items included beer and sangria. This restaurant is remembered for ad campaigns promising to spoil its customers.


Geri’s Hamburgers

Geri’s Hamburgers began in the early 1960s as the fast food craze reached its peak across the United States.

This chain spread throughout Southern Wisconsin and Illinois. I think this place was a true classic. 

Geri’s specialized in burgers, crispy fries, and milkshakes, and the last Geri’s closed in 1999.


Taco Viva

Florida’s Taco Viva delivered fast food Mexican classics to a devoted fan base until 2005.

Taco Viva introduced Mexican food to the masses on the East Coast. Items like burritos, enchiladas, and taco salads filled the menu.

Taco Viva offered six signature sauces, from mild to El Scorcho, which remain a favorite memory of fans.


Mighty Casey’s

Mighty Casey’s joined the fast food scene in 1980. This Atlanta-based restaurant offered interesting regional favorites, like cajun wings and a Grand Slam hamburger with ham on top.

Mighty Casey’s closed in 1994 after being bought out by the larger Georgia hamburger chain, Krystal.


Tops Drive Inn

About 20 unique Tops Drive Inn locations dotted the Northern Virginia landscape in the 1950s until finally folding in the 1980s.

Tops revolutionized the drive-in experience, developing specialized trays to rest on car windows and using car hops to carry food to customers in their vehicles.


Yankee Doodle Dandy

This patriotic burger chain debuted in 1966 before its eventual closure in the late 1980s.

About 27 restaurant chains existed around the Chicago area.

This restaurant served the traditional fare of burger chains, but what I remember most is the heavy Americana motif in the eateries and its commercials. 


Naugles

Another defunct Southern California Mexican food chain arrives on this list with Naugles.

Naugles featured a straightforward, affordable menu of hard and soft shell tacos and Mexican-spiced hamburgers.

This chain reached 275 stores in 1984 before merging with a similar chain, Del Taco, in 1988.


Dee’s Drive-In

This restaurant popped up near the University of Utah in the 1920s and became a Utah icon.

Dee’s Drive-In sold hamburgers, hot dogs, and apple turnovers from its cheerful and family-friendly restaurants.

Dee’s featured prominent clown sculptures and artwork throughout its peak of 53 locations. 


VIP’s

VIP’s represented a line of fast-casual restaurants which began in Oregon in 1968.

This chain was once the largest restaurant group in Oregon. VIPs featured a casual dining atmosphere with table service.

These restaurants popped up near truck stops and along busy highways to feed hungry travelers.


Milligan’s Beefy Burgers

The year 1942 brought Florida its first drive-thru burger chain. Milligan’s Beefy Burgers is known for its filling and delicious burger patties.

I remember this chain as the first to feature square burgers on square buns.

See also  11 Best Del Taco Vegan Menu Items

This Jacksonville institution served an astonishing 450,000 burgers in its first year of operation. Unfortunately, Milligan’s closed in 1974.


Howard Johnson’s

Most people remember Howard Johnson’s for their hotels, but I love their former restaurants.

Featuring unique menu items like fried clams and chicken pot pies, this sit-down restaurant arrived in 1925, more than 25 years before the hotels.

Another signature item was the 28 flavors of ice cream. Howard Johnson’s restaurants closed more than 1,000 restaurants by 2022. 


Chicken George

Chicken George grew to include several bicoastal restaurants in places like Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C.

Chicken George operated its first restaurant in Baltimore in 1979. 

Fried chicken, gumbo, and collard greens ranked as some of my favorite items at this chain, which closed for good in 1991 after filing for bankruptcy.


Royal Castle

Royal Castle began in Miami in 1938. This burger chain served small slider-sized hamburgers as their signature item.

Birch Beer, a drink similar to root beer, endures as a treasured memory of Royal Castle, along with its squeezed-to-order orange juice. This former fast-food chain closed in 1975.


D’Lites

D’Lites established a reputation for offering tasty and healthier fast food options.

Its hamburgers were made with lean beef and included toppings like low-fat cheese.

This chain tried to capitalize on the fitness craze of the 80s, growing from its first location in 1978 to more than 100 stores by 1985. D’Lites filed for bankruptcy the next year.


La Petite Boulangerie

Translated to “the little bakery,” La Petite Boulangerie offered tasty pastries and baked goods in a fast food atmosphere.

Before ubiquitous chain coffee shops, La Petite Boulangerie reigned from 1977 to 2000.

This bakery chain offered classics like croissants, gourmet loaves of bread, and, my favorite, danishes.


Winky’s

Winky’s operated in 42 locations throughout Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio from 1962 to 1982.

This burger chain borrowed heavily from the McDonald’s model that was taking over the nation.

Winky’s prioritized cheap food, like their 15-cent hamburgers. This chain also sold hot dogs.


Little Tavern

This Louisville, Kentucky-based restaurant specialized in small slider-sized burgers and good coffee in its tiny restaurants.

The Little Tavern kept true to its name with its small locations, designed to look like an English cottage.

After reaching a peak of 50 locations in 1981, the chain closed permanently in 2008.


Carrols

New York-based burger chain Carrols existed as an offshoot of the successful Tastee-Freez ice cream chain.

Carrols served triple-thick milkshakes and fries, along with its signature hamburgers at this classic joint.

After getting its start in 1960, Carrols closed only about 10 years later.


Sandy’s

Another Mcdonald’s imitator, Sandy’s, offered 15-cent cheeseburgers, salty french fries, and cold soft drinks to eager diners in Central Illinois.

Sandy’s is remembered for its authentic spirit, where the owners got to know their franchisees personally.

Established in 1956, the last Sandy’s restaurant became a Hardee’s in 1979.


Minnie Pearl’s Chicken

Minnie Pearl’s Chicken began as the idea of two eccentric businessmen in 1967 and ballooned to 300 franchises nationwide one year later.

This story of this fried chicken business, modeled after Kentucky Fried Chicken, is dominated by its quick rise and sharp downfall.

After questionable business practices, Minnie Pearl’s Chicken folded by 1970.


Wag’s

The famous national pharmacy chain Walgreens tried its hand at running restaurants in the 1970s and 1980s.

Wag’s operated 91 restaurants before they all closed in 1991. This chain served diner-style food and was often referred to as a pancake house.

Wag’s was open 24 hours per day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Written by Brian Nagele

Brian attended West Virginia University, then started his career in the IT industry before following his passion for marketing and hospitality. He has over 20 years experience in the restaurant and bar industry.

As a former restaurant owner, he knows about running a food business and loves to eat and enjoy cocktails on a regular basis. He constantly travels to new cities tasting and reviewing the most popular spots.

Follow him on LinkedIn, Instagram, Quora, Google Guide and Facebook.