The intrepid author of the Broken Chains blog travels the country documenting the last remaining locations of once-popular chain restaurants. And while the hobby might seem niche, the photographs provide an intense hit of nostalgia. Here, we take a walk down memory lane with some of the blogger’s snaps of forgotten fast food icons…
20. Dog ’N’ Suds
Once a major player in the Midwest’s roadside restaurant scene, Dog ’N’ Suds was known for it’s simple fare of hotdogs and root beer. The drive-in venues were a proponent of carhop service, with waiters and waitresses bringing food directly to vehicles’ windows. This location in Lafayette, Indiana, was opened in 1956 – when the chain was on the up.
Dog ’N’ Suds had been set up by teachers Don Hamacher and Jim Griggs in 1953 in a bid to make some cash in the summer holidays. The success of the chain peaked in 1968 with 650 franchises across 38 states. The company went bankrupt during the 1990s, when there were only eight outlets left. As of 2018 Broken Chains put that number at 14, with the most of them situated around Indiana and Illinois.
19. Maryland Fried Chicken
Contrary to what the name might lead you to believe, Maryland Fried Chicken was actually founded in Florida by Delaware native Albert Constantine. He had been inspired to start the chain by the success of Colonel Harland Sanders’ business KFC, which had taken off in the 1950s, seemingly thanks to the popularity of the restaurants’ so-called “Original Recipe.”
Armed with his own special blend of herbs and spices, Constantine started a fried chicken chain himself; as a template he used his own restaurant, Constantine’s, which he’d opened before KFC even existed. MFC franchises would earn the business millions over the years, before he finally cashed out and sold the business in 1975. In 2018 Broken Chains put the number of restaurants left at roughly 20, with locations in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.
Blimpie was founded in Hoboken, New Jersey, by high school buddies Angelo Baldassare, Tony Conza and Peter DeCarlo after the trio became partial to sandwiches on a trip to Point Pleasant. It seemed that they weren’t the only people with a taste for subs. As of the early 2000s their business had grown to approximately 2,000 Blimpie outlets across the U.S.
But Blimpie would ultimately lose the submarine war to competing chain Subway. In 2018 Broken Chains put the number of Blimpie franchises at over 200. And while this might seem like a healthy number for any chain restaurant, when you compare it to Subway’s figure – which is just shy of 43,000, making it the biggest fast-food franchise in the world – there’s really no comparison.
Frostop was founded in Ohio in 1926 when L.S. Harvey opened his first root beer stand, promising the most lip-smacking and creamily smooth beverage in all America. Easily noticeable thanks to the giant mug of beer which adorned its drive-ins, the chain’s popularity rose in the wake of World War Two. It peaked in the 1960s, with more than 350 locations to its name.
As the allure of fast food drive-ins gradually started to recede in the 1970s, Frostop fell into a period of decline. Corporate support for franchisees was pulled in the 1980s, meaning that any surviving locations from then on operated independently. Today, there are 13 Frostop restaurants scattered across the U.S.
Isaly’s dairy was founded by a family of Swiss cheesemakers, who emigrated to the U.S. in 1833. The business soon expanded into dairy stores with corresponding restaurants selling the firm’s famous “skyscraper” ice cream cones and “chipped-chopped” ham sandwiches. At the height of its popularity, the chain had 300 locations across West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Perhaps Isaly’s most famous creation was the Klondike Bar, a slab of ice cream covered in chocolate and packaged in foil. But despite the company’s clear ingenuity, its business began to decline at a rapid pace in the 1970s. As of 2019 there were just five independently-operated Isaly’s stores left, with three of them located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, alone.
15. Henry’s Hamburgers
Henry’s Hamburgers was established in the 1950s in a response to the success of McDonald’s in the Midwest. The eatery chain based its restaurants, menus and service on its bigger competitor. And by the early 1960s the business was thriving, with more than 200 restaurants across the country.
But, unlike McDonald’s, Henry’s Hamburgers was unable to sustain this level of success throughout the subsequent decades. So, as early as the 1970s, the chain had begun its descent into near-extinction. As of 2018, just one restaurant remained in operation, located in Benton Harbor, Michigan.
14. Big Boy
The Big Boy chain was established by Bob Wian in 1936 and named after the restaurant’s signature hamburger. He later sold the franchise of his restaurant to Dave Frisch, who operated the chain in Florida, Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. Frisch made the restaurant his own, swapping red relish on burgers for tartar sauce and even tweaking the image of the business’s famous mascot.
The success of Frisch’s empire was a good advertisement for the Big Boy brand, inspiring other franchisees across the land. Frisch’s Big Boy eventually became independent from the rest of the business in 2000, with 121 restaurants to its name in 2018. Meanwhile, there are just 74 other Big Boy franchises now in operation across the U.S.
Mexican food chain Zantigo began under a different name, Zapata, the creation of Marno McDermott in 1969. In 1974 the business was bought by Heublein, the then-owner of KFC. Following a rebrand in 1976 the restaurant grew in popularity, but was later sold off to PepsiCo, which owned Taco Bell.
Given the similarities between Zantigo and PepsiCo’s existing Mexican food chain, by 1988 most restaurants had been closed down or transformed into Taco Bells. For the next ten years, Zantigo was almost extinct as a company, until a former manager bought the copyright for the name and set about relaunching the chain. Today there are four locations in operation, all of them located in, or near to, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Irish-pub-inspired restaurant chain Bennigan’s was founded in 1976 by Norman E. Brinker, then a vice president at Pillsbury. The executive had already tasted success once before, when he had launched his Steak and Ale brand. And as of the early 1980s both businesses were leading names in the mid-range casual dining scene.
By the early 1990s both Bennigan’s and Steak and Ale had been bought by Metromedia, the owner of chains such as Bonanza and Ponderosa. Unfortunately, Metromedia was hit hard by the 2008 recession, which forced all franchises of Steak and Ale into closure and left just 138 Bennigan’s still trading. The numbers have decreased even further since then, and as of 2018 there were just 15 of the Irish-themed eateries dotted across the country.
11. Dutch Pantry
Dutch Pantry started life as a family-owned business in 1945, when mom and son Lottie and Jess Kemberling opened their first eatery in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. Adopting the tried-and-tested franchise system, the chain expanded following World War Two, becoming successful in the 1950s and ’60s. Even then, the business stood out among its competition with its red-and-white restaurants and tulip-and-windmill motifs.
Dutch Pantry’s fortunes began to wane as growth in the economy slackened, and the business became increasingly reliant on franchises owned by Hospitality Motor Inns. But a subsequent acquisition of the motel group by Harry and Leona Helmsley, who leased the restaurants to Rains International, led to the near-obliteration of the brand thanks to rental arrears on the remaining 35-odd locations. Somehow though, three Dutch Pantry locations survive to this day.
Stuckey’s chain came from humble beginnings. It was established in Eastman, Georgia by one William Sylvester Stuckey Senior who started selling pecans from a hut situated beside a highway. As the business grew, it started selling fuel and various novelty wares, and also transitioned into an eatery. After World War Two, Stuckey marketed his concept, and the resulting franchises were easily identified by their distinctive blue roofs.
At its peak, there were approximately 350 Stuckey’s lining the nation’s major highways. But the decline set in from the 1970s as recession, fuel shortages and growing competition from other fast food chains took hold. There’s conflicting information on how many franchises are left today, with the Stuckey’s website citing 115 locations, and Broken Chains putting that number at 82.
9. Roy Rogers
Roy Rogers started out as RoBee’s – a spin-off from the Big Boy brand – selling roast beef sandwiches. But when the enterprise was purchased by Marriott it was renamed Roy Rogers, after the movie star famous for his Westerns. The first restaurant opened in 1967 and the chain later peaked at about 600 locations with a menu of burgers and fried chicken.
Things started going awry for Roy Rogers when it was bought out by fellow food chain Hardee’s in the 1990s. Hardee’s had hoped to expand its business in the Midwest, and so converted many locations to its own brand. The menu, though, did not go down too well with customers and many of the restaurants were sold off. In 2018 Broken Chains put the number of Roy Rogers still in existence at 24 full eateries, plus scattered other concessions.
8. Red Barn
Red Barn was one of the many chains spawned by the explosion in popularity of fast food generally during the early 1960s. At its height, the business boasted 400 locations across America, Australia and Canada, all of them sporting a distinctive barn-like shape. A series of business deals led to Red Barn being bought by City Investing, which was only interested in real estate, not running restaurants.
Following City Investing’s purchase, almost all centrally-owned eateries were shut down straight away, and while franchise agreements were allowed to run their course up to the end of the 1980s, none were renewed. Unable to operate under the Red Barn brand, a number of franchisees decided to relaunch their restaurants as The Farm. Over the subsequent decades though, locations closed one by one. Since 2015 there’s been just one of these rebranded Red Barns still in operation, located in Racine, Wisconsin.
Established by Samuel Blair in Flint, Michigan in 1923, Kewpee was an early adopter of the trend for hamburgers. The height of the chain’s popularity arrived just before World War Two when the eatery hit the 400-locations mark. Following Blair’s retirement in 1944 operators continued to pay a standard charge to his estate in order to use the Kewpee name.
But when Ed Adams – who ran the franchises around Toledo in Ohio – bought the Kewpee name and licensing in the mid-1960s, he insisted that franchisees signed a full agreement and paid him a cut of their profits. Unsurprisingly, many operators decided to change the name of their businesses and revamp the menu to avoid the new terms Adams was proposing. These days, only five Kewpee locations remain in operation, with three of them in Lima, Ohio.
6. Taco Tico
The first Taco Tico was opened by Dan Foley in Wichita, Kansas, in 1962. The chain would later expand to include 120 locations across the south-eastern United States and the Midwest. After many years of slow decline, all company-owned restaurants in the Wichita area were forced to close in 2013 as a result of unpaid taxes. This left just a handful of franchises still trading.
But there’s a happier end to this particular story, with many of the Taco Ticos that closed in 2013 since having reopened. According to Broken Chains, as of 2019 there were 17 locations in business. These days, the eateries retain only a broad and non-specific affiliation with one another; each has its own website and the menus are non-standardized.
5. Arthur Treacher’s
The Arthur Treacher’s chain was named after an English actor who was known for playing typically British roles in the 1930s. The star’s frequent appearances on The Merv Griffin Show in the 1960s brought him once again into the public consciousness. And so he was deemed the perfect frontman for a chain of fish-and-chips restaurants that launched in 1968.
The Arthur Treacher’s chain prospered in the early 1970s and restaurant numbers topped out at somewhere between 800 and 900 locations. But fish shortages led to franchisees suing the company over a decline in quality, and this resulted in a number of bankruptcies and ownership changes. The business disruption killed off most restaurants, but somehow, seven Arthur Treacher’s were still trading in 2018.
4. Ponderosa Steakhouse
Entrepreneurs Norm Wiese and Dan Lasater opened the Western-themed steakhouse Ponderosa in 1963. They were seemingly inspired by the success of Bonanza steakhouse, which was named after the popular western TV show its owner Dan Blocker starred in. Ponderosa’s admiration for the rival restaurant was perhaps not so subtle, with it sharing a name with a ranch on Bonanza.
When Bonanza’s owners caught wind of Ponderosa’s intended name, they were quick to trademark it. But they neglected to protect the rights to their own name, so Lasater and Wiese acquired them, and negotiated a swap to win back control of the Ponderosa brand. The chains were rivals for years, both boasting about 600 locations in their heyday. They’ve since been amalgamated into the Ponderosa-Bonanza Steakhouse chain, with only 11 Bonanzas and 64 Ponderosas still operating in the U.S.
3. York Steakhouse
York Steakhouse was another discount meat joint that rose to prominence in the 1960s. At its height there were almost 200 locations dotted mostly along the eastern side of America in the late 1970s; despite reasonable pricing the restaurants were known for their high-quality food and upmarket ambiance. To add to the feel, cashiers called orders to the kitchen in French, giving the place a certain je ne sais quoi.
Following a buyout by General Mills in 1977 the fortunes of York Steakhouses began to flounder. Roughly a decade later, almost all of the chain’s restaurants had shut up shop. Just one York Steakhouse managed to keep going. It’s been run by Jay Bettin in Columbus, Ohio, since 1989, and it is still open to this day.
Even at its peak Clancy’s was a relatively low-key chain, with just 31 restaurants across Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee. The first of these eateries opened in 1965 in Noblesville, Indiana. The hamburger joint lays claim to being one of the first fast food businesses to embrace the double drive-through and was also an early adopter of indoor seating.
According to the Clancy Hamburgers website, there are two locations in operation today, one in Sidney, Ohio, and the other in the Bottleworks district of Indianapolis, Indiana. Nowadays the business remains committed to providing high-quality food, and sourcing ingredients from farms and vendors local to the Indiana area.
1. Ollie’s Trolley
Ollie’s Trolley was originally a spin-off from Lum’s chain of hot dog restaurants. The name seemingly comes from Ollie Gleichenhaus, who introduced his eponymous Ollie Fries and Ollieburgers to Lum’s menu. Ollie’s Trolleys were subsequently added to the business to provide customers with low-cost fast food.
The miniature restaurants had no indoor seating, a similar footprint to four medium-sized parking spaces and were made to look like trolley cars. They were mostly found in urban areas during the mid-1970s with a limited menu of Ollieburgers and fries. At its peak there were about 100 Ollie’s Trolleys in business, but according to Broken Chain’s estimate, as of 2018 there were only three left in existence.