It was always a special night when your parents took you out to dinner as a kid, because what could be more exciting than going to your favorite restaurant and ordering one of your favorite meals? While I’m not knocking on Mom’s home cooking, pure joy is aroused when a meal you’ve specially ordered arrives at your table. And when you’re sitting with your family, eating that burger or drinking that milkshake, you know those are the moments you’ll look back on and cherish for years to come.
But what was once your favorite place to eat may now be little more than a memory, as so many restaurants couldn’t stand the test of time. Whether it’s competition, bad publicity, or simply a lack of consumer appeal, the eateries you knew and loved may no longer exist today.
These are some of the once-favorite family restaurant chains that are no longer operating. Once you’re done learning what happened to these restaurants, be sure to check out 4 restaurant chains making the biggest comebacks after bankruptcy.
Families who love football know that this favorite establishment was founded in 1957 by NFL Hall of Famer Gino Marchetti. The decor featured sports memorabilia that football fanatics gazed at as they enjoyed staple food choices like the Gino Giant burger. To make this eatery even more family-friendly, they bundled family deals that let you feed parties of five for less than $2. After Gino’s Hamburgers opened its doors, it reportedly made headway in the mid-Atlantic until the 1980s, when Marriott bought out the burger chain and merged it with the Roy Rogers brand.
In 2010, a similar but different restaurant called Gino’s Burgers and Chicken opened, with a new menu. And while you can still visit the last handful of locations in Maryland today, those who loved the original Gino’s burger top will have their own special hall of fame in their hearts.
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Back in the day, when families craved a good burger, Red Barn was the place to go. You can enjoy the signature Big Barney or Barnbuster burgers and feel like you are on a farm. This once huge franchise first opened in 1961 and quickly took the world by storm. At the height of its popularity, Red Barn reportedly had about 300-400 restaurants worldwide. But unfortunately, just as quickly as success grew, it crashed and burned. After a series of mergers and sales, Red Bard was eventually acquired by City Investing Company, which then reportedly let all leases for its Red Bard franchises expire. Finally, in 1988, families said goodbye to the last official Red Barn location after it closed its doors.
The beauty of restaurant buffets is that customers can choose from a wide selection of dishes, so you never have to settle for just one dish. This is especially perfect for the indecisive kids who go from chicken fingers to pizza in a matter of seconds. The Old Country Buffet provided that opportunity to families looking for a satisfying meal with plenty of variety.
After a series of bad business decisions that culminated in the economic tensions of the COVID-19 pandemic, the brand closed its doors, Restaurants reported. According to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business JournalOld Country Buffet’s parent company Fresh Acquisitions filed for bankruptcy in April 2021. After being eventually bought out by BBQ Holdings, the fate of Old Country Buffet still hangs in the balance as the company has reportedly not yet taken immediate action to revamp and relaunch this branded buffet.
Henry’s Hamburgers is a beloved malt, milkshake and hamburger chain that started in the 1960s. It quickly evolved into a hamburger phenomenon and expanded to more than 200 restaurants in the US, even a competitor to McDonald’s. At one point, customers couldn’t get enough of this establishment’s 15 cent burgers. But unfortunately its success couldn’t compete with the massive numbers of fast food establishments that developed over the years, leading to massive closures in the 1970s. Today, the once thriving chain has been reduced to one location in Benton Harbor, Michigan.
Those growing up in the ’60s and ’70s may remember how Burger Chef was ahead of its time, even patenting the flame broiler and creating the first fast food meal for kids. Between 1968 and 1972, the restaurant chain grew rapidly from 600 to 1,000 franchise locations nationwide. But that success was short-lived thanks to increased competition in the fast food industry. McDonald’s hit Burger Chef with a major blow after launching its Happy Meal in 1979, and Burger Chef tried to level the playing field by filing a lawsuit against the franchise that was eventually settled out of court. As Burger Chef then tried to keep up with the constant innovations of brands like McDonald’s and Burger King, this once beloved chain just couldn’t keep up. Though it no longer exists, Burger Chef’s legacy still lives on today through Hardee’s, which took over the fast food chain in 1981 and gave the restaurants a total revamp.
Perhaps the most family-friendly restaurant chain on this list, GameWorks was an excellent place for kids to enjoy food and entertainment all in one. Founded in 1996, GameWorks was a tag team effort between the video game company Sega and the animation studio DreamWorks. In addition, Steven Spielberg lent a helping hand as a creative advisor. The company offered customers a themed dining experience with a fully catered arcade for video games, bowling and billiards.
Unfortunately, this distinctive restaurant lost its dream team when DreamWorks withdrew from the company in 2001. After going through several bankruptcy filings, GameWorks attempted a recovery in September 2020 by filing for an IPO. However, according to an article from FSR magazine: “Documentation showed that the company had suffered losses totaling $28.9 million for three consecutive years since August 2017, and the chain acknowledged that it could be profitable in the short term or not at all.”
After the restaurant/entertainment center went through a slew of mandatory closures, the remaining six GameWorks locations shuddered their doors in late 2021.
Once considered the largest restaurant chain in America, Howard Johnson’s was at its peak in the 1960s and 1970s. Known for its fried clams, hot dogs, 28 signature ice cream flavors, adults and children alike have made many happy memories at this much-loved family-friendly restaurant. Unfortunately, this all changed when the brand was acquired by the Marriott Corp. in 1985. Under Marriott’s ownership, Howard Johnson restaurants continued to close left and right as more emphasis was placed on the lodging segment of the brand’s corporate portfolio. Ultimately, the Lake George, NY location — and the last HoJo restaurant — was officially closed for good in 2022.