These Vintage Restaurant Chains May No Longer Exist but You Probably Haven’t Forgotten About Them

Oh, how we long for the good ol’ days! The days when retro fast-food joints and iconic restaurants could be found in every town, city, and state. And when our families would gather together for a delicious meal in an eatery with character and charm. Now, there’s a McDonald’s on every corner and we’re bombarded with Taco Bell commercials every ten minutes. And it’s just not the same.

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Image: Architectural Digest

But we’re here to hit you right in the feels with these nostalgic restaurants of decades past. These retro restaurants may not be around any longer, but we have no doubt about the fact that you’ll still remember them. Whether you had a first date in a Wetson’s or whether you always went for a Sunday lunch at Bugaboo Creek, now is the time to remember these iconic restaurants in all of their vintage glory.

Burger Chef

You can never have too many burgers in your life, right? And it seems as though our constant love of burgers throughout history has provided us with countless fast-food chains over the years. Including Burger Chef, which opened its delicious doors back in 1954. You might even remember their signature burger, the Big Shef…

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Images: Yahoo! (left) and Hoosier State Chronicles (right)

Burger Chef was at the top of its food game during the 1970s, and it seems as though kids and grandma’s alike just couldn’t resist their 15¢ burgers. And thanks to this popularity, there were once around 1,050 Burger Chef restaurants across North America! But life can be cruel, and as larger fast-food chains started popping up, Burger Chef just couldn’t compete. The last restaurant closed in 1996.

Steak & Ale

The 1960s and 1970s were all about casual dining with yummy food that could feed a whole family – and that’s where Steak & Ale came in. Originally founded as an independent chain in 1966, it wasn’t long before companies were falling over themselves to eat the signature herb-roasted prime rib and to grab a slice of their delicious pie.

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Image: The Wichita Eagle

With the backing of the Pillsbury company – which owns Burger King and Bennigans – the Tudor-style restaurant expanded across the US. And we don’t know about you, but we were always up for a trip to the Jolly Ox Pub! Sadly, Steak & Ale restaurants no longer exist, but you can find some of their signature dishes on Bennigans’ menu if you look hard enough.

Sandy’s

Let’s be honest; we could never turn down a 15¢ hamburger, a 20¢ milkshake, or a 10¢ bag of french fries. And Sandy’s offered us the bargain of all fast food bargains with those prices. This fast-food restaurant first opened in 1956 by four former McDonald’s franchise owners. They wanted to create a new restaurant that offered similar prices to the Golden Arches, but with a more authentic atmosphere.

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Image: Daily Choices

And it seems as though their business decision paid off. For a while, at least. At its peak, there were 240 Sandy’s across the country! Many of these were in the state of Illinois, the birthplace of Sandy’s founders. Families and young professionals were drawn into the wholesome, friendly atmosphere. Until the chain was bought out and transformed into Hardee’s in 1979, of course.

Horn & Hardart

We’re going to go ahead and assume that you weren’t alive in 1888 when Horn & Hardart was first opened – but you may be familiar with this chain. After all, they revolutionized self-service eateries! Back in the day, Horn & Hardart restaurants were like a little slice of the future, and people just couldn’t get enough of this incredible concept.

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Images: Philadelphia Row Magazine (left) and The Daily Beast (right)

Without any servers or waiting staff, the food and drink at Horn & Hardart featured automatic machines – almost like modern-day vending machines – that would let you serve your own meal. And the restaurants that popped up in New York and Philadelphia were always teeming with regular Joes and even high-profile celebrities! This popularity continued until the 1990s when more and more locations began to close down.

White Tower Hamburgers

We all know White Castle, but what about White Tower? Founded in Milwaukee in 1926 – five years after White Castle – this restaurant chain was often thought of like the famed franchise’s younger brother. But that didn’t stop it from being successful. Customers loved the hamburgers here so much that there were over 230 locations across the US during the 1950s.

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Image: White Tower

But despite the castle-like buildings and the friendly “Towerettes” who worked in these restaurants, White Castle eventually became the top dog in the hamburger world. The White Tower restaurants slowly began to close down, and it’s been noted that there is just one location left in Toledo, Ohio. Maybe it’s time for a trip to Ohio?

Geri’s Hamburgers

Calling all Wisconsin and Illinois locals! Remember Geri’s? We hope you do because this place was the go-to fast food joint when we were younger. Geri’s Hamburgers was another burger place that opened up as an alternative to McDonald’s in 1962 – in fact, the original owner used to be the Vice President of McDonald’s – and it focused on instant service.

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Image: Downtown Beloit Association

Yes, Geri’s cashed in on the fact that some people just don’t want to wait around for their burger and fries. Very few of the restaurants actually had seating, which meant that you would be walking out with your fresh fast food in no time – which made us all pretty happy. What didn’t make us happy was that Geri’s cooked their last burger in 1999.

Red Barn

Oh, Red Barn. Recognized by its red barn exterior, this restaurant won us all over with its 59¢ dinner. Who could complain about that? This restaurant chain first opened its doors in 1961 in Ohio, but it wasn’t long before the red barns could be found across the United States. In fact, there were around 400 restaurants in 19 states at its peak!

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Images: Penn Live (left) and Daily Stuff (right)

But even the “Big Barney” or the “Barnbuster” couldn’t keep this barnyard dream alive. The chain was taken over in 1988, and while many of them were transformed into restaurants called The Farm, some were also converted into new McDonald’s locations. In 2020, the last remaining The Farm restaurant was closed down, taking the whole barn down with it.

Bob’s Pantry

If you’re familiar with Bob’s Big Boy, you might already know a little about the history of this restaurant chain. Before the Big Boy name made its way across the country, the company was known as Bob’s Pantry. The burgers were just as delicious, the fries were just as scrumptious, and the shakes were just as shakin’. All that’s changed is the name. And the number of locations left.

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Image: Tumblr

Bob’s Pantry was in full force during the 1980s, and there were around 240 locations across the country in its heyday. Since then, the numbers have dwindled and there are only a couple left. And they’re not even under the original Bob’s Pantry name, but rather the Big Boy logo. We guess that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

Little Tavern Shops

In 1927, the fast-food world was graced with a brand new competitor; Little Tavern Shops. These adorable little hamburger restaurants could be found across Baltimore, Virginia, and Washington D.C – and you couldn’t miss them. They were quaint and cute, and they sold everything from cold drinks to good coffee.

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Image: History A2Z

Of course, no trip to Little Tavern Shops would have been complete without picking up a good o’ hamburger along the way – but it seems as though we no longer have the chance to do that. And that makes us pretty sad. The last Little Tavern closed its doors in 2008, but the memories of this place will last a lifetime.

Mr. Steak

Well, you probably don’t need us to tell you what this restaurant was all about. Because if you love steak and wholesome family dinners, Mr. Steak was probably your go-to eatery back in the day. And we don’t blame you. This steakhouse restaurant came into our lives in the 1960s, and it wasn’t long before there were almost 300 locations across the US.

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Images: Town of Greece (left) and Tumblr (right)

But it seems as though the people of the ’60s and ’70s really made meat a priority in their lives, as the popularity of this chain went downhill when they started to add new items to their menu. Who wanted chicken and salad? Not Mr. Steak’s regular customers, that’s who. This ultimately hindered their sales and the restaurant closed down in 1996 after filing for bankruptcy.

A&W Drive-In

When Roy W. Allen opened a root beer stand in 1919 in California, we bet he had no idea his concept would transform into a restaurant chain visited by customers across the world. But that’s exactly what happened – and his root beer floats became one of the staple additions to the menu. And if you ever got the chance to drink one, you’ll know that it was absolutely incredible.

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Image: The Kitchisippi Museum

During the 1950s and ’60s, the A&W Drive-Ins became some of the most frequented restaurants in the US – and at one point there were over 1,000 locations! Customers loved the quick service and the delicious food and drink, and it was just a wholesome place to visit. But sadly the company has switched hands so many times that now the original vibe we loved is gone.

Bugaboo Creek Steakhouse

Novelty animatronics are always a hit in our books, which is why we’re pretty sad that Bugaboo Creek Steakhouse is no longer alive and kicking. This Canadian-themed eatery could be found in Rhode Island and also expanded across the US – but it definitely made you feel as though you were in the Canadian wilderness. And that was all thanks to Timber, The Talking Christmas Tree, the many moose heads, and the general cabin vibes.

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Images: ALOT Living (left) and Patch (right)

Bugaboo Creek first opened in 1992 and while it was hugely popular, to begin with, it seems as though the novelty of this novelty restaurant began to wear off as time went by. It initially filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and closed a huge portion of its locations. And by 2016 every single Bugaboo Creek Steakhouse was gone for good.

Wetson’s

If you grew up around the state of New York, you’ll probably have fond memories of buyin’ a bagful at Wetson’s. After all, this fast food joint was truly something special and made a huge mark on the state during its heyday. The first Wetson’s opened up in 1959, and when its popularity was at an all-time high there were around 70 locations in total.

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Image: NJ.com

And while fans of Wetson’s couldn’t get enough of the “Big W,” the growing business of competitors like Burger King and McDonald’s during the 1970s made life hard for this small-town joint. In the end, they just couldn’t match up, and the last Weston’s closed down in 1975. It’s still there in our memories, though.

Sambo’s

You’ve got to love a restaurant with a theme – and a serious stack of pancakes, of course – which is probably why Sambo’s proved to be so popular during the 1970s. These epic eateries soon became associated with the children’s book, The Story of the Little Black Sambo, and diners loved to read snippets of the stories that were stuck to the walls. Plus, the food was totally delish.

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Images: Living Magazine (left) and History’s Dumpster (right)

The first Sambo’s opened its doors in 1957, but it truly became a household name during the 1970s when there were over 1,100 locations across the United States. But sadly they flipped their last pancake in 1981 when the chain filed for bankruptcy. And while one last Sambo’s still remained in 2020, the name was changed after many began to question its discriminatory connotations.

Isaly’s Ice Cream

Everyone knows that we all scream for ice cream, and it seems as though Isaly’s was ahead of the game when it came to their renowned dairy products. Known for the iconic Klondike Bar and its chipped ham, Isaly’s reigned supreme as a business – but when it expanded into physical stores it became the leader of the pack.

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Images: Little Green Footballs (left) and Pittsburgh Post Gazette (right)

Families would wait for the day they could head to Isaly’s and buy delicious ice cream, and the stores were a fun-filled space with friendly workers who genuinely seemed to love what they did. But it was this small-town vibe that also worked against Isaly’s. As bigger corporations moved in across the country, they pushed Isaly’s Ice Cream out in the process – and we don’t think we’ve ever gotten over it.

Carrols

We love it when companies all come together to create something magical, and that’s exactly what happened when the Tastee-Freez company decided to branch out into another fast-food adventure. The Carrols restaurants were born, and they became a staple for many people who lived in New York state during the 1960s.

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Image: The Daily Gazette

But even if you didn’t eat here yourself, perhaps you remember the yellow slug mascot this restaurant used to draw in customers? We don’t quite know what was going through their heads when they decided this. But maybe this decision ultimately pushed the company to buy into the Burger King franchise and transform all of the Carrols’ locations into new Burger King locations.

VIP’s

You’ve gotta love a casual dining restaurant, where you can eat your heart out without worrying about fitting in or getting all dressed up. And that’s why people loved VIP’s restaurants so much. Found across the Western United States from 1968 until the late 1980s, these restaurants were open all day every day, and were normally found next to truck stops.

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Image: Wikiwand

And while the VIP’s restaurants were the perfect road trip stop-off points, nothing could have prepared this chain from the surge of McDonald’s and Burger King joints. Fast food seemed to take over from casual dining, and in the end, they decided to admit defeat. We still remember the days we were VIPs, though. So that’s all that matters.

Wimpy Grills

In 1943, a man by the name of Edward Gold decided to create his very own restaurant. He called it Wimpy Grills, and the first location in Bloomington, Indiana did so well that there were another 25 restaurants by the time 1947 came around! Customers seemed to love the hamburgers, the fries, and the friendly atmosphere of the restaurant – and we totally understand why.

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Image: Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal

The Wimpy brand continued to make its way across the globe – and while it’s still alive and kicking across the pond today – the chain has vanished in the United States. After Gold’s passing in 1977, the brand simply disappeared with its founder. This is largely due to the fact that the rights to the brand hadn’t been acquired by another brand or company before he passed.

Nedick’s

Remember Nedick’s? What’s so amazing about this vintage restaurant is the fact that this chain didn’t even serve food to begin with. When the first Nedick’s opened in 1913 it was all about their famous orange drink. Then, as more customers descended upon their New York store to quench their thirst they expanded into hot dogs, donuts, coffee, and more.

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Images: Facebook/Nedicks (left) and Livable Future Blog (right)

But they didn’t just expand the menu. More and more Nedick’s locations began to pop up across the country resulting in over 80 stores. And while it seemed as though nothing could stop Nedick’s and their orange juice from taking over the world, the chain ultimately stopped trading in the 1980s. With competition from Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s, Nedick’s just couldn’t keep up.

Dubrow’s Cafeteria

Family-run restaurants always seem to attract a crowd, and this certainly seemed to be the case for Dubrow’s Cafeteria. The first location opened in 1929 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and the Dubrow family soon took it cross-country to Miami Beach where it thrived. While the food seemed to entice customers, it was the reputation of the place that really stood out.

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Image: Dubrow’s Cafeteria

Yes, Dubrow’s seemed to attract countless A-list customers during its heyday. From politicians to Hollywood starlets, it was always teeming with those eating, drinking, and just chatting the days away. You may have even visited this place yourself – until we had to say goodbye, of course. The last Dubrow’s in Manhattan closed back in 1985.

Pup ‘N’ Taco

Calling all Southern California natives! Or even just those who loved to take a trip down to the sunny Golden State from the 1950s until the 1980s. Did you ever check out the delicious offerings at Pup ‘N’ Taco? If you did you may have tried the famous burgers, tostadas, pastrami sandwiches, or even the many-flavored slushies.

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Image: Eat This, Not That

The first Pup ‘N’ Taco welcomed diners in 1956 as a drive-in restaurant, but it soon expanded across the state of California and became a fully-fledged fast-food chain. By 1984 there were 102 prime locations for diners to choose from – but this worked against them. As Taco Bell started to expand they wanted the best locations on the block, and they ultimately offered Pup ‘N’ Taco a price they just couldn’t refuse for their restaurants.

Howard Johnson’s

Sure, we all know that Howard Johnson’s hotels and motels are still out there, but the restaurants? They’re all but gone. In fact, there’s only one remaining Howard Johnson’s restaurant left in Lake George, New York. And it should come as no surprise to learn that people travel from far and wide to eat here, as this former restaurant chain is legendary.

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Image: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

At one point, the Howard Johnson’s chain was one of the biggest franchises of the ’60s and ’70s. There were over 1,000 restaurants across the country, and people just loved to hang out, eat yummy food, and then maybe stay in the hotels overnight. But after 90 years in the business, it seems as though the Howard Johnson’s restaurants just couldn’t survive the competition it faced.

Pioneer Chicken

Whether you knew it as Pioneer Chicken or Pioneer Take-Out, there’s no doubt about the fact that this fried chicken restaurant doesn’t need much of an introduction. After all, the epic (and bright orange) fried chicken from this fast food joint probably became a staple in your diet from the 1960s onwards if you lived in California.

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Images: Psyne Co (left) and Tumblr (right)

While it’s fair to say that Pioneer Chicken did extremely well for itself as a business, things started to go awry when Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) started to become a nationwide phenomenon. Although the founder of Pioneer Chicken tried to franchise the company and keep it together, there are no franchises left. And that makes us pretty sad.

All Star Café

There are two kinds of people in this world. There are those who would rather eat kale salads for the rest of their lives than step foot inside a novelty restaurant. And then there are those who pick out a colorful, themed outfit for the occasion so they fit in with the bright lights and the OTT vibe. If you’re one of the latter then there’s a high chance you loved visiting the Official All Star Café during its heyday!

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Image: Blogography

The first All Star Café opened in 1995. And these sports-themed restaurants were not only developed by Planet Hollywood, but they were also backed by celebs like Shaquille O’Neal, Andre Agassi, Wayne Gretzky, and more. The stadium cuisine and sports memorabilia drew countless hungry fans through the doors, and at one point they had over ten locations. However, the last restaurant closed its doors in 2007.

Doggie Diner

The giant doggie heads may have been removed from your local skyline, but who could forget the wonderful views we used to have? Okay, it may have been a little strange for a diner known specifically for its hot dogs to have dogs as their mascot – but we just couldn’t be mad at the Doggie Diners. Their food was just too scrumptious.

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Image: Twitter/Harry McCracken

Seen primarily around the state of California, the Doggie Diner first woofed into action in 1948, and it wasn’t long before customers were lining up to taste hot dogs and burgers this chain cooked up. But just like many of the smaller institutions on this list, the growing popularity of major fast food joints like Burger King and McDonald’s meant that Doggie Diner closed up in 1986.

Hill’s Snappy Service

You liked ’em the way they fried ’em, right? Yes, if you were around the Indiana area during the 1940s and 1950s, you may have made found yourself eating one of Hill’s Snappy Service’s 5¢ hamburgers – and we really don’t blame you. It would be hard to say no to a 5¢ hamburger.

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Image: City County Observer

Although diners loved Hills’ frosted malts, sodas, and sandwiches, it seems as though that just wasn’t enough to continue its run in Indiana. There were only a few locations of Hill’s Snappy Service to begin with, so it wasn’t long before they were all gone for good. We bet there are some Indiana locals out there who remember them, though.

The Brown Derby

Los Angeles has been home to more restaurant chains than anyone could possibly count, but how many restaurants do you know were founded by a famous playwright and were shaped like a man’s bowler hat? Only the Brown Derby, of course. This chain was founded by Wilson Mizner back in the 1920s, and it quickly became synonymous with actors and the Golden Age of Hollywood.

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Image: The Vintage News

While only the original Brown Derby featured this iconic bowler hat design, the chain itself did prove to be popular. They could be found across LA in various different forms, and the restaurants were known for their dark booths and Hollywood memorabilia. Sadly, they were later taken over and closed their doors.

Lum’s

Anyone fancy a hot dog steamed in beer? That was Lum’s speciality dish, and it went down a storm. This family chain of restaurants opened up first and foremost as a hot dog stand back in 1956 but soon expanded into physical locations across Florida and the rest of the country. And it became iconic.

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Images: Miami Herald (left) and Reddit (right)

Lum’s was popular with families, couples, and business people alike, and the people at the head of the Lum’s table were raking in the money. In fact, Lum’s, Inc actually bought the legendary Caeser’s Palace hotel in Las Vegas in 1969 all thanks to the chain’s growing success. But by 1982 times had changed and the company was no longer making money, so they went bankrupt.

Woolworth’s Luncheonette

You’ve got to remember Woolworths, right? Not only did this company provide us with an epic dime store where customers could pick up anything and everything, but their lunch counters also satisfied our hunger after a morning of shopping. From luncheon meats at the deli counter to overflowing ice cream sundaes, the Woolworth’s Luncheonette was a legendary institution.

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Images: University of South Alabama Archives (left) and Facebook/Popular Everything (right)

And while many customers made their way to the Luncheonette whenever they made their way into a Woolworth’s store, competition grew fierce for both the store and the lunch counter. When the department stores closed in 1997 the delicious food went with it. There’s been no other diner quite like it since.