11 Defunct Restaurant Chains That Are Sorely Missed

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes there’s nothing more frustrating than having a sudden food craving for something from a restaurant that’s been out of business for a decade. Unfortunately a particular signature hamburger or special recipe pizza sauce can leave a powerful mental imprint that long outlasts the lifespan of the product.

Some of the now-defunct chains listed below were regional, some have one or two lonely outlets still hanging in there, but their common bond is that they are nostalgic favorites for a lot of folks. How many of them bring back fond food memories for you?

1. LUM'S

The original Lum’s was a hot dog stand which opened in Miami Beach, Florida, in 1956. The chain eventually expanded into a family-style restaurant, but their signature menu item remained their steamed-in-beer hot dogs. Lum’s also purchased Oliver Gleichenhaus’s recipe for his famous Ollieburger for $1 million in 1971. Gleichenhaus spent 37 years perfecting his recipe for “the world’s best hamburger,” which included a very specific (and secret) mixture of herbs and spices. The Lum’s chain went belly-up in 1983, but there are still a few Ollie’s Trolley locations in operation—still serving up those spicy Ollieburgers and equally spicy fries.

2. MOUNTAIN JACK’S STEAKHOUSE

Mountain Jack's was an upscale steakhouse with a unique take on the traditional salad bar: individual lazy Susans filled with salad makings were brought directly to your table. Their specialty was prime rib, which was slow-roasted to tender perfection and edged with a crunchy herb crust. Sadly, the chain’s California-based parent company, Paragon Steakhouse Restaurants, filed for bankruptcy in 2002, and by 2008 the majority of its Mountain Jack’s properties had been shuttered.

3. RED BARN

The first Red Barn opened in Ohio in 1961, and 10 years later there were approximately 400 barn-shaped outlets in 22 states and parts of Canada. Red Barn’s double burger was called the Big Barney and actually predated the Big Mac by four years. Their quarter pound burger was called a “Barnbuster," and their fish sandwich ... didn’t have any fancy, farm-related name. The chain, according to franchise owner Bill Lapitsky, was the first fast-food restaurant to offer a salad bar, but their true pièce de résistance was their fried chicken (which was sold in a barn-shaped cardboard box). The chicken was breaded in a special coating mix and then deep-fried (36 pieces per “run”) in large pressure cookers that were manufactured specifically for Red Barn restaurants. Anyone who has tasted the perfection that was Red Barn chicken will confirm that no other chain since has come close to that unique flavor.

4. SHAKEY’S PIZZA

Picture it: Sacramento, 1954. Armed with a pizza recipe and a love of Dixieland jazz, Sherwood “Shakey” Johnson, who acquired his nickname after suffering some nerve damage during World War II, approached “Big” Ed Plummer with the idea of opening a pizza parlor—the first of its kind. The J Street restaurant in East Sacramento served only pizza (no salads or pasta dishes), draft beer, and soft drinks. The combination of Johnson’s tasty pies (with their crispy made-from-scratch thin crusts) and live ragtime and jazz music provided by local bands meant Shakey’s Pizza Parlor had customers lining up for tables just one week after it opened.

The partners began selling Shakey’s franchises in 1957 and by 1974 there were 500 Shakey’s locations across the U.S. The chain was bought out in 1984, and then sold again in 1989 by which time the menu and recipes had changed and the majority of the U.S. stores (save for those in California) had closed.

5. BURGER CHEF

In 1971, Burger Chef was poised to surpass McDonald’s as the largest hamburger chain in the U.S., with 1200 locations nationwide. Not too bad for a restaurant that was created as an afterthought to showcase the General Restaurant Equipment Company’s new flame broiler. In addition to their Big Shef (double burger) and Super Shef (quarter pound burger), the company introduced a Fun Meal, which included a burger, fries, drink, dessert, and a toy for the kids. (Burger Chef sued McDonald’s six years later in 1979 when that company introduced their Happy Meal.)

General Foods purchased the chain in 1968 and added menu items such as the Top Shef (bacon/cheeseburger) and a chicken club sandwich (with bacon). The Works Bar allowed customers to purchase a plain burger and pile it high with the toppings of their choice. But in 1982 General Foods decided to get out of the burger business and sold the chain to Imasco Ltd., the parent company of Hardee’s. Many of the Burger Chef restaurants closed, and those buildings that remained were converted into Hardee’s.

6. CHI-CHI’S

Chi-Chi’s Mexican cuisine might have been about as ethnically authentic as Chef Boyardee’s canned pasta, but those cheese-smothered enchiladas and chimichangas were pretty tasty when washed down with a jumbo frozen margarita or two. And, of course, you’d want to save room for their signature dessert: Mexican fried ice cream. The chain was already ailing financially in 2003 when the final death blow was struck—an outbreak of hepatitis A (eventually traced back to some scallions imported from Mexico) that infected over 600 patrons in the Pittsburgh area. The $40 million Chi-Chi’s paid out in lawsuit settlements added to its financial distress and hastened the chain’s demise in the U.S.

7. BILL KNAPP’S

This family-style chain opened in 1948 and had more than 60 outlets in five states—Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Florida—at its peak. Bill Knapp’s prided itself on its “made from scratch” menu items with items delivered fresh daily in Knapp’s own fleet of trucks. The menu stayed fairly static, concentrating on family favorites like fried chicken, meatloaf, steaks, and burgers to encourage repeat customers. The chain also had a fairly extensive bakery and offered a free whole chocolate cake to patrons celebrating a birthday or wedding anniversary. On top of that, birthday celebrants received a percentage discount on their entire bill equal to their age, which is why a lot of seniors tended to have their birthday dinners at Bill Knapp’s. The last restaurant closed in 2002, but many of Knapp’s pastries and desserts—including that chocolate cake—can be found today at Awrey’s Bakeries.

8. FARRELL’S ICE CREAM PARLOUR

The original Farrell’s opened in Portland, Oregon in 1963, and 10 years later there were about 130 of the 1900s-themed ice cream parlors nationwide. The chain also offered “regular” food, like burgers and sandwiches, but its specialty was elaborate ice cream concoctions, like The Zoo, which was carried out on a stretcher by employees accompanied by a bass drum and blaring sirens. The chain had offered a free sundae to folks celebrating a birthday, and they made paying the bill a treacherous journey for parents because they had to make their way through an elaborate store that featured a huge selection of colorful candy and toys to get to the cashier. Declining sales hurt the chain in the late 1970s, and by 1990 almost all of the original chain stores had closed.

9. HOWARD JOHNSON’S

For some 50-plus years the bright orange roof of Howard Johnson’s restaurants was a familiar sight along America’s interstates for hungry travelers. The chain became famous for their fried clams, which were served as strips rather than the entire clam (including the belly) which had previously been the standard. Kids loved their hot dogs, which were grilled in butter (the buns were toasted in butter as well), and everyone loved the ice cream, which contained twice the butterfat of traditional brands and was available in 28 flavors.

The Marriott Corporation bought the chain in 1982 with an eye on the prime roadside real estate most HoJo’s occupied. They began dismantling the corporate-owned Howard Johnson’s restaurants and replaced them with motor lodges. The franchised outlets that remained suffered without corporate support and slowly went out of business, with a few staunch holdouts lasting until the early 21st century.

10. GINO’S HAMBURGERS

Folks who grew up on the East Coast in the 1960s and 1970s remember the great sirloin burgers at Gino’s, a regional chain founded in Baltimore in 1957 by several Baltimore Colts players, including defensive end Gino Marchetti. Their signature burgers were the “banquet on a bun” Gino Giant and the Sirloiner, a quarter pound patty made from ground sirloin, and French fries that were cut and cooked on the premises. The chain expanded to over 350 outlets at its peak, and most stores doubled as a Kentucky Fried Chicken carry-out since the Gino’s guys owned the Mid-Atlantic KFC franchise. Marriott purchased the brand in 1982 and slowly turned the remaining Gino’s stores into Roy Rogers restaurants.

11. CHICKEN DELIGHT

Chicken Delight was hatched in 1952 in Illinois when Al Tunick purchased some deep-fryers on the cheap from a restaurant going out of business. He experimented with food items other than fries that could be cooked in the fryers, and hit upon lightly breaded chicken pieces. (Up until that time, chicken was traditionally pan-fried or roasted, and the lengthy cooking time required nixed it as a fast food menu item.) Deep-frying the coated chicken sealed in the juices and cooked the meat in a matter of minutes, and a new franchise was born.

Chicken Delight offered carry-out or (free) delivery, and with more women entering the workforce during that era, “Don’t cook tonight, call Chicken Delight!” rapidly became a household phrase. The company had over 1000 outlets across the U.S. at one time, as well as 50 restaurants in Canada. An antitrust suit between franchise owners and corporate headquarters led to a huge loss in revenue in 1971, and then there was that Colonel from Kentucky who had started his own fried chicken empire. By 1979 the chain was long-gone in the U.S., and the remaining Canadian stores were purchased by Winnipeg entrepreneur Otto Koch, who kept the chain running in the Great White North into the 2000s.

11 Secrets of Restaurant Servers

iStock.com/andresr
iStock.com/andresr

If you enjoy eating at restaurants, it's worth getting to know the waitstaff. Servers are the face of the establishments where they work, and often the last people to handle your food before it reaches your table.

"People think it’s an easy job, and it’s really not," Alexis, a server who’s worked in the business for 30 years, tells Mental Floss. She says, jokingly, "You want a professional handling your food, because we have your life in our hands."

Even if they don't spit on your plate (which thankfully they almost never will), a waiter can shape your dining experience. We spoke with some seasoned professionals about how they deal with rude customers, what they wish more customers would do, and other secrets of the job.

1. Server pay varies greatly.

The minimum wage changes from state to state, but for tipped workers like servers, the difference in pay can be even more drastic depending on where you work. In over a dozen states, if a worker typically makes a certain amount per month in tips (often $20-$30), their employers are only required to pay them a minimum of $2.13 an hour. That’s how much Jeff, a video producer who’s held various jobs in the restaurant industry, made when serving tables in New Jersey. “Usually, if I had a full paycheck of serving I could just put a little bit of gas into the tank,” he tells Mental Floss.

Waiters and waitresses in many states rely almost entirely on tips to make a living—but that’s not the case everywhere. California, Oregon, and Washington each pay tipped employees minimum hourly wages over $10. Jon, who currently works at a casual fine dining restaurant in Portland, Oregon, gets $12 an hour from his employer. Including tips, he typically earns $230 a day before taxes, and brings home about $34,000 a year on a 25-hour work week.

2. They split up tips among the restaurant staff.

Here’s another reason to be generous with your tips: Whatever extra money you leave on the table may be going to more than one person. If you ordered a drink from the bar, or if there was anyone other than your server bringing your food and clearing it from the table, that tip will likely be split up. At one restaurant job, Jeff says he paid food expeditors (workers who run food from the kitchen to tables) 10 percent of whatever tips he earned.

3. Waiters and waitresses know how to handle rude customers.

In addition to taking orders and serving food, servers are often forced to de-escalate conflicts. For many people waiting tables, this means acting sweet and professional no matter how angry customers get. Jon’s strategy is to “treat them like a child, smile, tell them everything they want to hear and remind yourself that it’ll be over soon.” Similarly, Mike (not his real name), a server at a farm-to-table restaurant in Texas, likes to “kill them with kindness." He tells Mental Floss he tries to “be the bigger man and [not] return sour attitudes back to people who don’t treat me with respect. If nothing else I can hold my head high knowing I did my job to the best of my ability and didn’t let their negativity affect my day with other, more pleasant patrons.”

Alexis, who currently waits tables at a family-owned restaurant in California, goes beyond faking a smile and makes a point to practice empathy when serving rude guests. “There’s a hospital near my restaurant, and people come there for comfort food with hospital visitor stickers on their clothes all the time. And I know then that they’re going through something traumatic usually. So when people are acting badly, I put imaginary hospital stickers on their clothes and try to remove my ego.”

4. Your waiter (probably) won’t spit in your food.

While most servers have had to deal with a customer who treats them poorly, they rarely retaliate. On the old urban legend of servers spitting in their customer’s food, Alexis says, “Never seen anybody mess with anybody’s food out of spite or malicious intent. I’ve never seen it happen and I’ve never actually done it. I don’t need to get back at people like that.”

5. Servers do more than wait tables.

Most customers just see one aspect of a server's jobs. When they’re not refilling your drinks and bringing you condiments, they're doing side work—either before the restaurant opens, after the last guest leaves, or in between waiting tables. “It could be rolling silverware, filling sauces, cutting lemons, rotating salad bars, stuff like that,” Jeff says. “It’s not just serving and you leave; there’s usually something else behind the scenes that the server has to do.”

Alexis says that in addition to hosting and serving, she has to prep to-go orders, bus tables, and wash dishes. "We’re expected to be working every moment,” she says.

6. Waiters have some wild stories.

Though parts of the job are tedious, servers are bound to see interesting things. Alexis recalls a husband and wife who were regulars at the restaurant where she worked in the 1990s; the man was later arrested for murder. “I found out when a newspaper reporter started asking me questions about them,” she says. “I’m quoted on the front page of the LA Times as saying ‘A waitress in a local coffee shop said they were a nightmare!’”

Other stories are lighter. “When I worked at Red Robin there was a lady that came in every morning and would ask to sit in the same booth," Jon says. "She carried a bag [of] stuffed animals (mostly dragons) and situated them around the booth, always in the same spots, she’d talk to them throughout her dining experience.”

7. Waiters hate it when you don't know what you want.

The simplest way to get on your server’s good side is to know exactly what you want when you tell them you're ready to order. That means not wasting their time stalling as you speed-read the menu. If you haven't decided on a dish, let your server know and trust that they'll return to your table in a few minutes. “Don’t tell your server you’re ready to order if you’re not ready to order,” Alexis says. “I’m like ‘Come on, I know you’re not ready. I’m going someplace else and I’ll be back.’”

It also means not asking your server to make several trips to your table in the span of a few minutes. Mike says that customers asking for items one at a time is one of his biggest pet peeves. “[Customers will say] ‘I need salt. I need hot sauce. I need another [...] drink.’ I was away from the table for 30 seconds each time. Those requests could easily be fulfilled in one trip to the kitchen.”

8. Waiters hate when you ask to move tables.

Next time you get seated in a restaurant, think twice before asking your server to switch tables. Restaurants divide their floor plan into sections, and each server is responsible for a different group of tables. The hosts in charge of seating rotate these sections to distribute guests evenly to servers; by asking to move, you may be depriving one server of an hour’s worth of tips while creating extra work for a server who’s already swamped. According Jon, the worst time to complain about where you were seated is when a restaurant is busy: “Sometimes this isn’t a problem if we’re slow, but if it’s a Friday/Saturday chances are you were put there for a reason.”

9. Servers work when everyone else gets the day off.

Servers have to be prepared to work a different schedule every week, work late into the night, and work on weekends. This can make maintaining a normal social life challenging. “My schedule can be troublesome, my girlfriend/friends have the opposite schedule as me so I’m never able to make it out on weekends or holidays,” Jon says.

And on the days many 9-to-5 workers go out to celebrate, servers have to wait on them. “Where I currently work I have worked Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Years Eve, New Years Day, and I will have to work on Mardi Gras (in the South),” Mike says. “I was leaving for work as my family arrived at my house for Christmas. I missed a New Years party in my house. If I hadn’t requested if off as soon as I began working there I’m almost certain I’d have to work 15 [hours] on my birthday.”

10. Your server might give you a free drink if you order it at the right time.

Asking your server for a free stuff likely won’t get you anywhere, but there is one thing you can do to possibly have a drink taken off your bill. If you wait until after your meal is served to order something cheap like a soft drink, Alexis says there’s a chance you won’t get charged for it all. “Not alcoholic drinks, but I’m talking about a cup of coffee or a soda or something like that, especially if you’re already paying for other beverages,” she says. “The server might get too busy or might not be inclined to go back to the POS [point of sale] system and add them on to your bill. It’s more trouble than it’s worth sometimes.”

11. Waiters want you to learn their names.

There’s a reason most servers introduce themselves before taking your order: They’d much rather you use their real names than a demeaning nickname. “Don’t call me sweetheart! I’m wearing a damn name tag,” Alexis says. “Sometimes I respond well, and other times no.”

And if your server doesn’t introduce themselves and isn’t wearing a name tag, Jon says it doesn’t hurt to ask. “Ask what the servers name is and refer them by name when you’re talking to them.” He says it’s “refreshing when a guest does this.”

15 Tasty Bits of Pizza Slang

iStock.com/Radionphoto
iStock.com/Radionphoto

Unless you’ve worked in a pizzeria, your pizza vocabulary is probably limited. But the crust-loving pros who are cooking up your favorite slices seem to have insider slang for everything, including whimsical terms for toppings and one-of-a-kind ways of describing regional pie styles. So if you’re looking up your pizza-talk game with words that go beyond ‘za, here’s a quick list of 15 terms you should know.

1. Tip sag

The dreaded tip sag is what you get when the pointy end of your pizza starts to droop. This most often occurs with top-heavy (and topping-heavy) pies, like Neapolitan-style pizzas with generous helpings of fresh mozzarella piled on top.

2. Avalanche

An avalanche is what occurs when all the toppings slide off your pizza as soon as you pick it up. This tends to happen when a pizza is still piping hot from the oven, so be smart and give it a minute to cool down.

3. Apizza

If you ever travel to New Haven, Connecticut, you might hear the locals order apizza (pronounced uh-BEETS). This refers to the local style of thin-crust pizza, which originated at the famous Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana and has since become the area's pizza standard.

4. Grandma pie

This style of pizza is thick like a Sicilian pie, but with a thinner, denser crust. Although it likely originated in Long Island, you can now find it in pizzerias throughout New York City (and beyond).

5. Party-cut

Man delivers several pizzas to a customer
iStock.com/Rawpixel

Also known as a tavern-cut, a party-cut describes any circular pizza that’s cut into a grid. The portions are smaller and typically square, which helps ensure that everyone at your Super Bowl party will get a piece of the pie.

6. All-dressed pizza

Order an all-dressed pizza in Montreal and you’ll get a deluxe pie with mushrooms, green peppers, and pepperoni on it. In Québec, it's known as a pizza tout garnie.

7. Flyers

Slices of pepperoni pizza are called flyers, reportedly because of the way they’re often tossed around like Frisbees.

8. Guppies

Depending on your perspective, guppies is either a really cute or really gross way to describe anchovies. Other slang words for the fishy topping include chovies, carp, penguin food, and smellies.

9. Alpo

It’s not very appetizing, but crumbled sausage does kind of resemble dog food—hence the Alpo moniker. Other nicknames for the topping include Kibbles ‘n Bits and Puppy Chow, neither of which make the topping sound any more appetizing.

10. Screamers

Woman preparing a mushroom pizza at home
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Mushrooms are sometimes called screamers because of the high-pitched squeal the canned variety lets out when they’re tossed onto a hot surface.

11. Edgar Allan

What does a pizza with pepperoni and onions spell out? A PO pie—which is close enough in spelling to Edgar Allan Poe's last name that it gets tossed around in pizza kitchens on occasion. Sure, P-O or Po would be easier (and quicker) to say, but it’s not nearly as fun.

12. Blood pie

Also known as a hemorrhage, this gruesome term refers to a pizza with extra tomato sauce on it. Now please forget that we ever told you that.

13. Coastline

The coastline is that little bit of exposed sauce you can see between the sauce and the crust.

14. Mutz

A margherita pizza fresh from the oven
iStock.com/svariophoto

Mutz is simply a quicker way of saying mozzarella. Likewise, wet mutz is fresh mozzarella.

15. Roadie

When you get a slice of pizza to-go, that’s a roadie. Enjoy it while it's still hot (but not so hot as to cause an avalanche)! 

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