By Chris Wharfe
These days, if you want fast food, you probably head to one of the greats — McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, to name a few. But back in the mid-20th century, loads of other eateries tried their hand at becoming the biggest and the best. Sadly, a lot of chains simply didn’t survive for the long haul — whether that was down to poor business models or even an unfortunate viral outbreak. Things would look very different if these restaurants were still around.
With restaurants in just five states at its peak, VIP’s — a 24-hour Denny’s-style diner — may have passed you by. But at one point, it was actually the largest restaurant chain in Oregon and extended its reach to Nevada, California, Washington, and Idaho. In 1982, however, it sold most of its locations to Denny’s, with the rest being split up and sold by the 1990s.
2. Howard Johnson’s
Back in the 1920s, Howard Johnson’s was a pioneer for plenty of now-common fast-food concepts such as standardization, comfort food, and even roadside locations. But as the chain paved the way for McDonald’s and KFC, its franchises’ focus on smaller menus and lower costs allowed it to offer a cheaper dining experience. And Howard Johnson’s ultimately paid the price, selling off and shutting down almost all its restaurants in the ’90s.
3. The Official All-Star Café
With themed restaurants being all the rage in the early ’90s, businessman Robert Earl reckoned that a sports-themed restaurant would surely meet the same success as his Planet Hollywood venture. And with backing from athletes including Tiger Woods and Shaquille O’Neal, The Official All-Star Café opened in Times Square in 1995. But it didn’t last long — in four years, revenues tumbled, with sports proving not quite as family-friendly as movies.
4. Horn & Hardart
Taking the lead from similar ventures in Berlin, Horn & Hardart was famous for being the U.S.’s first automat, where food was served by large vending machines. Its staple menu choices, including baked beans and macaroni and cheese, saw it take off in the Great Depression and thrive for decades. But in the 1960s, over-the-counter fast-food chains swept in, signaling the death knell for the automat.