Beloved American Fast Food Chains That No Longer Exist

Beloved American Fast Food Chains That No Longer Exist

Did you know that there's more to fast food in America than your typical McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's? There's a whole rich history of fast food chains that have charmed Americans in the past that you probably never heard of before. To enlighten you on how American fast food has transformed over the years, here are 20 beloved American fast food chains that no longer exist, but definitely left an imprint on the country.

1. White Tower

White Tower Hamburgers was a fast food chain founded back in the 1920s and found its peak somewhere in the 1950s with about 230 locations opened. Unfortunately, in its attempt to mimic the success of White Castle, the chain faced many legal battles and slowly declined in popularity. And in 2022, the final location finally closed its doors. White Tower was known for its sliders (small, square hamburgers that were similar to White Castle's), serving them in a distinctive white, castle-like building you can't forget.

White Tower RestaurantRFParker2 on Wikimedia Commons

2. Burger Chef

Founded in 1954, Burger Chef was once a very popular fast food chain that had over 1,000 locations during its prime. It was famous for introducing the concept of the "Fun Meal," the idea that inspired the beloved Happy Meal from McDonald's. Unfortunately in 1968, the chain was sold to General Foods Corporation which eventually led to its transformation into Hardee's in 1982. The last Burger Chef restaurant closed in 1996. 

1709320264085.pngGlaceEntertainmentPR on Wikimedia Commons

3. Henry's Hamburgers

Emerging in the 1950s as a competitor to McDonald's, Henry's Hamburgers wasn't able to climb the fast food ladder and started to decline in popularity by the 1970s. By the early 1970s, many locations had closed thanks to increased competition and changing market dynamics. There is supposedly one restaurant remaining in Benton Harbour, Michigan, making this fast food restaurant no longer a chain. 

Anthony-Espinosa-Pyqsm-P 0 C-UnsplashPhoto by Anthony Espinosa on Unsplash

4. Carrols

Initially a part of the Tastee-Freez company, Carrols operated in the 1960s and 1970s. It transitioned to become a Burger King franchisee in the early 1980s, effectively ending its existence as a separate fast-food entity. Carrols was known for its unique menu items, including the Club Burger, with a focus on quality and innovation in fast food.

Carrols Helsingin KeskustassaSkorpion87 on Wikimedia Commons


5. Wetson's

With its slogan "Look for the Orange Circles," Weston's was a New York-based fast food chain that thrived in the 1960s and early 1970s with up to 70 locations. By 1975, the chain went out of business due to fierce competition and financial troubles. However, Wetson's still remains in the hearts of many thanks to its delicious burgers and signature orange roof buildings.

1709328594988.pngWetson's on Wikimedia Commons

6. Sandy's

Sandy's was a beloved Midwest fast food burger chain that started in the 1950s, but struggled through to the 1970s with its locations being converted to Hardee's by the end of the decade. Sandy's was known for its Scottish-themed branding and menu items like the Big Scot, a precursor to the fast-food industry's larger, more premium burgers.

Josh-Duke-Uyc6Nvmw9Sa-UnsplashPhoto by Josh Duke on Unsplash

7. Minie Pearl's Chicken

Minnie Pearl's Chicken, named after the famous country comedian, tried to compete with KFC back in the 1960s, but after facing multiple financial issues and lawsuits, it had a swift closure in the early 1970s. Although it was taken down, the chain was loved for its Southern-style fried chicken.

Shardar-Tarikul-Islam-Rwatoppp9Ry-UnsplashPhoto by Shardar Tarikul Islam on Unsplash

8. Naugles

Founded in 1970, Naugles was a Mexican-American fast food chain that eventually merged with Del Taco in 1988. The brand eventually completely disappeared by the mid 1990s as all of its locations were converted or closed. Interestingly enough, fans wanted to see Naugles back in action so badly that a revival was made! Its first comeback store opened up back in 2016, but it's safe to say the old Naugles did face extinction. 

Krisztian-Tabori-Zqf4Jzkpz1K-Unsplash (2)Photo by Krisztian Tabori on Unsplash

9. Red Barn

Red Barn, known for its fun and unique barn-shaped restaurants, operated from 1961 until the 1980s. The chain declined in popularity as it was sold off and eventually dissolved, with the last known locations closing by the late 1980s. This fantastic chain was famous for its Big Barney and Barnbuster burgers combined with its unique architecture of buildings. It was certainly a memorable spot that'll stay in the heart of fans forever!

Peter-Dawn-Sxz Ca6Mkwm-UnsplashPhoto by Peter Dawn on Unsplash

10. Pup 'N' Taco

Pup 'N' Taco was a California-based chain that was beloved for its diverse menu that catered to a variety of tastes. Offering a mix of hot dogs, tacos, and pastrami sandwiches, it was a tasty blend of American fast food with Mexican-inspired items. It operated from 1956 until 1984 when most of its locations were sold to Taco Bell.

Ball-Park-Brand-4Pwmqiulgfq-UnsplashPhoto by Ball Park Brand on Unsplash


11. Sambo's

Founded in 1957, Sambo's once had over 1,100 locations nationwide. The chain faced controversy over its name and branding, which led to a rebranding effort in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It eventually declared bankruptcy in 1981, ending its era. This delicious chain was known for its affordable breakfasts and 24-hour service, catering to a wide audience with its diner-style menu.

SambosTaken by Antandrus on Wikimedia Commons

12. Lum's

Famous for its hot dogs steamed in beer, Lum's was founded in 1956 and saw rapid expansion before being sold to KFC in 1971. The chain struggled in the late 1970s and eventually filed for bankruptcy in 1982, leading to the closure of its remaining locations by the mid-1980s. Besides its unique beer-steamed hot dogs, Lum's offered a variety of classic American fare that satisfied everyone's cravings.

Lum's Hot Dog Restaurant Fort Lauderdale, FloridaFlorida Memory on Wikimedia Commons

13. Howard Johnson's

Through the 1960s and 70s, Howard Johnson's was recognized as the largest restaurant chain in America. It was best known for its delicious 28 flavours of ice cream and noticeable orange-roofed buildings. Despite its popularity, the brand began to decline in the 1970s due to changes in dining habits, and by 2017, the last stand-alone restaurant closed.

Howard Johnson's (80079)"Tichnor Quality Views," Reg. U. S. Pat. Off. Made Only by Tichnor Bros., Inc., Boston, Mass. on Wikimedia Commons

14. Chi-Chi's

A popular Mexican restaurant chain founded in 1975, Chi-Chi's expanded rapidly but filed for bankruptcy in 2003 following a Hepatitis A outbreak linked to green onions at one of its locations. The remaining U.S. restaurants closed shortly after (as expected), though some international locations still operate. This fast food chain was greatly loved for its festive atmosphere, Mexican dishes, and signature fried ice cream.

1709328427367.pngNostaljack at English Wikipedia

15. Kenny Rogers Roasters

This iconic chain was founded in 1991 by country musician Kenny Rogers and former KFC CEO John Y. Brown Jr. Known for its wood-fired rotisserie chicken, it offered tasty, healthy plates that consumers loved. Sadly, the brand struggled in the U.S. and was acquired by Nathan's Famous in 1998. By the early 2000s, most U.S. locations had closed, although the brand continues to thrive in Asia!

1024Px-Kenny Rogers Roasters In Sunway Carnival Mall (1)Bindydad123 on Wikimedia Commons

16. Steak and Ale

Established back in 1966, Steak and Ale was the first to develop the concept of the salad bar and casual dining with an affordable steak menu. Who wouldn't love the sound of that? Unfortunately, the chain wasn't able to last and had to file for bankruptcy in 2006, leading to the closure of all its restaurants.

Abandoned Steak And Ale, Westminster Mall, CoXnatedawgx on Wikimedia Commons


17. D'Lites

Innovative for its time, D'Lites of America was a fast food chain that rose in the early 1980s and aimed to offer consumers healthier eating options with lower calorie and lower fat foods. Despite initial success, the chain struggled to maintain profitability when competing against McDonald's, Burger King, and other popular fast food chains, leading to all its stores closing by the early 1990s.

1709322037259.pngRilennEdits on Wikimedia Commons

18. Burger Queen/Druther's

Burger Queen, founded way back in 1956, was a regional fast-food chain primarily located in Kentucky. In 1981, the chain rebranded to Druther's, a name change that attempted to reflect a broadened menu beyond burgers to consumers. However, the brand struggled to compete with larger, more popular chains, and most locations were converted to Dairy Queens in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Druthers Img2008Willp1203 on Wikimedia Commons

19. Bill Knapp's

First coming to the scene in 1948, Bill Knapp's was a Michigan-based chain that slowly expanded throughout the rest of the Midwest. The chain was known and beloved for its home-style cooking, but unfortunately in 2002, the chain had to file for bankruptcy and close all its doors. Bill Knapp's was best known for its birthday discount that was based on the customer's age, and its scrumptious chocolate cake.

Pushpak-Dsilva-2Uebol7Ud34-UnsplashPhoto by Pushpak Dsilva on Unsplash

20. Gino's Hamburgers

Gino's Hamburgers, a chain known for its Gino Giant burger, was founded in 1957 and largely disappeared by the 1980s. The brand was acquired by Marriott Corporation in 1982, which converted most of the locations into Roy Rogers Restaurants. But for those who did go to this now extinct fast food chain, they'd tell you that Gino's was loved for its fast service, quality burgers, and the Gino Giant, its answer to the Big Mac.

Jonathan-Borba-8L8Yl2Ruusg-Unsplash (2)Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash