Whatever Happened To....
May 30, 2018 3:19 PM   Subscribe

Broken Chains is a blog devoted to telling about and visiting the few remaining locations of formerly expansive restaurant chains.
posted by JHarris (132 comments total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is great. I opened the page, wondering about...PONDEROSA! The memories!
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:24 PM on May 30, 2018 [10 favorites]


I await stories of Rax, which was something I thought I had imagined, but was actually replaced by Arby's in my hometown about 30 years ago.
posted by elsietheeel at 3:29 PM on May 30, 2018 [8 favorites]


Oh yeah, definitely preferred Rax to Arby's as a kid.
posted by Chrysostom at 3:30 PM on May 30, 2018 [8 favorites]


I love that dude also likes Ford Festivas.
posted by box at 3:34 PM on May 30, 2018 [4 favorites]


I have vague memories of a chain restaurant where they had giant barrels of peanuts you could help yourself to, and the floor was covered in sawdust and spent peanut shells as part of the ambience. Was that Ponderosa? I sort of think it was, but my lizard brain is insisting was another steakhouse chain, because my one actual no-doubt memory of Ponderosa involves sliding a tray cafeteria-style along metal railings and my hard-to-place memories were of a bar and actually ordering... but if not, what am I thinking of?
posted by Mchelly at 3:43 PM on May 30, 2018 [4 favorites]


Somebody alert the Doughboys!!!
posted by saladin at 3:44 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


It seems like chains all go to Ohio to die.
posted by octothorpe at 3:49 PM on May 30, 2018 [4 favorites]


why do i know what ollie's trolley is, i have never been to kentucky.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:50 PM on May 30, 2018 [4 favorites]


Mchelly, I remember the Texas Steakhouse & Saloon chain back east had peanuts and peanut shells strewn on the floor. My parents got me a gift card for them one Christmas and were surprised and dismayed when I informed them that the chain had no locations west of the Mississippi.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:50 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


OMG - I just remembered! It was the Ground Round! Apparently it is still a chain, but alas no longer has spittle-flecked ground shells on the ground.
posted by Mchelly at 3:57 PM on May 30, 2018 [18 favorites]


The Ground Round was famous for peanut shells on the floor. I had my first legal beer at a Ground Round.
posted by octothorpe at 3:57 PM on May 30, 2018 [8 favorites]


Longhorn Steakhouse, Logan's Roadhouse, and Ground Round used to have floor peanuts too--seems like it is, or was, a steakhouse thing.

And, though I can't imagine it's the place you're thinking of, Five Guys. And the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore.

People hypothesize that peanut shells are somewhat absorbent, and that the oil in the shells is good for hardwood floors. Peanut allergies and lawsuits from people who slip and fall seem to have greatly limited the number of restaurants that still encourage shell-tossing.

(On preview, I may have spent a little too much time Googling about floor peanuts.)
posted by box at 4:00 PM on May 30, 2018 [9 favorites]


I enjoyed Ground Round when I spent a summer working in upstate New York. It was a HILARIOUS group joke that summer to call it "Grahrah" probably because someone said it that way one time and we all laughed and laughed and laughed. I remember nothing about their food.

But there was a peanut-shell trend in restaurants in that era - I don't even think that was the place where we had a few shells on our table and the server enthusiastically swept them onto the floor to show us how it was done there.
posted by stevil at 4:01 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


The Ground Round I grew up with projected cartoons on screens and had popcorn on the tables. It also had a bar on the other side that was full-on 70s Fern Bar.

It was no longer the 70s.
posted by uncleozzy at 4:04 PM on May 30, 2018 [20 favorites]


Lum's was a big deal for me when I was in the single-digit years in Massachusetts in the 70s. There, and McDonalds, BurgerKing and Sambo's (yes that place, the one with the very questionable mascot) were the places my family went when we went out (with me). Lum's might have been my favourite? It was closer than Sambo's. I remember Lum's food, but what I most remember about Sambo's was the one time our Beetle got vapour lock in the parking lot because it was sluggish starting, and we had to sit around for 15 minutes.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:05 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


I don’t have many memories of Ponderosa/Bonanza growing up. (We were a Western Sizzlin’ family.)

I had an attack of nostalgia for Western Sizzlin' some time ago and looked them up. There is a location about 25 miles from me, but, on reflection, I decided it would not be what I was looking for.
posted by thelonius at 4:06 PM on May 30, 2018


Griff's. Corner of Central and Wyoming in Albuquerque, NM. Last remnant of a former chain, and still some of the best cheap burgers I've ever tasted.
posted by wanderingmind at 4:18 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


Holy shit, the York steakhouse in the Fairview Heights, Illinois mall was the height of classy for me as a kid. I had completely forgotten about that hole.

White trash you, say? Yes, that's where I come from.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 4:19 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


Oh wow, the memories, given that I grew up in mid-Michigan.

Hot 'n Now was a staple trip during high school lunch, as we had an open campus, and it wasn't that far away. Cheap but very mediocre burgers and fries. And yes, no dining area, just a drive-thru and a walk-up window in the front in those strange buildings. Looking it up, the building is still there, but now a "Twisters Ice Cream".

We also had Rax as people are mentioning, a decent alternative to Arby's.

We had a Bonanza and Ponderosa across the street from each other. Eventually, the Bonanza location became the Ponderosa, and the other closed. Along with, later on, a Ryan's Steakhouse, which took the concept and even went bigger with it. Larger steak menu, and a much larger salad bar, in a larger restaurant. We were regulars there for a few years. Apparently they're in the same boat, still around, but much, much smaller.

We had an Elias' Brothers Big Boy, none of that Frisch's Big Boy nonsense.

I faintly remember an Arthur Treacher's Fish and Chips too, though I don't recall if I ever ate there - given my at the time dislike of fish, perhaps not.
posted by evilangela at 4:29 PM on May 30, 2018 [6 favorites]


"Hot 'n Now" sounds like a restaurant chain out of Idiocracy.
posted by Chrysostom at 4:30 PM on May 30, 2018 [11 favorites]


My mother gave me the sex talk at dinner in a York's when I was 9. (My mother described sex in very technical and un-fun ways. It's amazing I have ever had sex or that it has been fun due to that talk.)

My Ground Round had both peanuts and popcorn.

The Texas Roadhouses around here still have peanuts in the waiting area and buckets of peanuts at the tables.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 4:31 PM on May 30, 2018 [7 favorites]


I miss Howard Johnson's fried clams.
posted by maggieb at 4:34 PM on May 30, 2018 [11 favorites]


Cashiers would relay orders to the kitchen verbally, in French, to give the place an exotic feel.
That's culture.
posted by clawsoon at 4:40 PM on May 30, 2018 [6 favorites]


Rax was the place with buckets of ketchup, right? Where you slathered it on your burger with abandon? I *loved* that as a kid.

By the way, Ohio isn't just where chains go to die -- it's also where chains are born! Bob Evan's, Wendys, White Castle, Arby's... the list goes on!
posted by dbx at 4:46 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


I've driven past both the Bay City Ponderosa AND Howard Johnsons he speaks of! I've never been in either. AMA.
posted by riruro at 4:48 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


Just last week I saw an Arthur Treacher's-branded food truck in Brooklyn (near the Shake Shack on Fulton). Less surprising now that I know that Nathan's owns the brand.
posted by phooky at 4:53 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


Rax was the place with buckets of ketchup, right? Where you slathered it on your burger with abandon? I *loved* that as a kid.


No, no, no. Rax was a far superior Arby's, w BBQ sauce that didn't taste like cigarette ashes and lovely horseradish.

For a bit, they even had a fancy salad bar (just like Wendy's!)

But never any burgers,
posted by Gyre,Gimble,Wabe, Esq. at 4:55 PM on May 30, 2018 [3 favorites]


OMG, we STILL have a G.D. Ritzy's!! I haven't been in a while - but it still exists. As I recall, it's pretty tasty..... with skinny little fries.
posted by Gyre,Gimble,Wabe, Esq. at 4:58 PM on May 30, 2018 [3 favorites]


I remember Arthur Treacher's. always better fish n' chips than Long John Silvers.

Ponderosa was the first restaurant where i remember having one of those plastic triangles with a number on it that told the server where to take the food, and the pic on the blog even had the little white spear that indicated how well done your steak was.

I have great nostalgia for HoJo's. My grama used to love to go there and we would always go on wednesday for the all you can eat fried clams. this was during my late teen years when I could drive (she never did), so she'd pay, and i'd get us there. There was another chain ( I want to say Pappy's, but i honestly don't remember) that had bad pizza, and a salad bar and....all you could drink pitchers of beer or sangria. Grama enjoyed a glass of beer.
posted by OHenryPacey at 5:03 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


There used to be blogs documenting, e.g. things that used to be Arby's ( I just Googled that and "how is Arbys still in business was one of the suggestions).....this kind of reminds me of that.....like banks with that unmistakable Flintstones look
posted by thelonius at 5:12 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


No Golden Skillet? I still crave their eastern NC BBQ every now and then. So greasy.
posted by Vhanudux at 5:25 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


There used to be blogs documenting, e.g.

Hmm. Do we need a blog that blogs whatever happened to now-defunct blogs?
posted by clawsoon at 5:27 PM on May 30, 2018 [20 favorites]


I think Lone Star also had the peanut shells.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:33 PM on May 30, 2018


As an Ohioan from the 80s, yeah, many of these are old, familiar friends. The dude desperately needs to get to Kewpie in Lima, as should any serious eater of hamburgers.

Also, when I was in Rochester, Minnesota in 2016, there was both a K-Mart and a Ground Round still open. The K-Mart shared a parking lot with a place called Snappy Stop. I don't know if it's a chain, but it's the kind of old-school, drive-thru fast food joint that I suspect the blogger would enjoy.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:47 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


Update: I alerted the Doughboys.
posted by saladin at 5:49 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


The drive through of the Arthur Treacher's in Panama City FL was a staple of my youth. Captain D's is the best fast food fried fish place though.
posted by COD at 5:51 PM on May 30, 2018


Also, I love that this is not a Tumblr or Instagram but an honest to goodness old fashioned blog.
posted by COD at 5:53 PM on May 30, 2018 [18 favorites]


OMG, Lum's! I remember when Lum's closed down, and every time we went to a burger joint, Mom would say how much she missed Lum's because you could get a burger OR a hot dog. Same speech, every time. And we went to Arthur Treacher's probably once a month.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:59 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


"GD Ritzy's" is a dang good name for anything that requires 37 pieces of flair.
posted by rhizome at 6:00 PM on May 30, 2018 [4 favorites]


Rax! That's where we would go for an Uncle Alligator meal after swim class!

I also live right by a very endangered Zantigo. Never eaten there, thiugh.
posted by Elly Vortex at 6:00 PM on May 30, 2018


We had Treachers also, but not too often. You had to eat in because the fish would turn nasty if it ever cooled down.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:03 PM on May 30, 2018


If I remember correctly (and I may not be, this would be from 40+ years ago), on Oakland Avenue in Milwaukee, Arthur Treacher's and Red Barn used to be next door to each other. Red Barn was a chain, right? They had "fresh ideas", or something.

And Burger Chef! I went there once, after being tested by some college guy when I was very small (there were a lot of those "spacial" things with blocks), and he got me a cheeseburger meal that came with a tiny doll.

I've never been to a Ponderosa or Bonanza (or Sizzler), but I recall those places, too.
posted by droplet at 6:03 PM on May 30, 2018


why do i know what ollie's trolley is, i have never been to kentucky.

Ollie's Trolley is still around here in Cincinnati...
posted by mostly vowels at 6:04 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


A Ground Round was the site of the top-2 most awkward meal I’ve ever had. Funny story, I don’t eat ground beef or really meat at all much. To say the least, Ground Round is not set up for that. I’m not sure what I did manage to eat that meal but I know I was pretty hungry on the plane ride home.

Also, I don’t care whether or not this paragraph is true because it’s amazing:
“Dan Blocker, who played Hoss Cartwright on the popular western TV series, Bonanza, opened the first Bonanza steakhouse in the western-in-name-only city of Westport, Connecticut in 1963. Two years later, Dan Lasater and Norm Wiese opened a western themed steakhouse of their own in Kokomo, Indiana. Perhaps attempting to cash in on the popularity of Bonanza, they named their restaurant Ponderosa, which was the name of the Cartwrights' ranch on the Bonanza TV show. By that time, Sam and Charles Wyly had bought Bonanza from Dan Blocker, and when the Wyly brothers heard of the planned Ponderosa steakhouse, they quickly trademarked the Ponderosa name. They however failed to trademark their own name, which was then in turn trademarked by Laseter and Weise. The two chains then ended up exchanging trademarks to gain the rights to their own respective names.”
posted by librarylis at 6:09 PM on May 30, 2018 [15 favorites]


Desperate for an update on the remaining Chi-Chi's (allegedly the last one exists in Utah).
posted by mostly vowels at 6:10 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


Huh. No mention of Carroll's? IIRC they were assimilated by Burger King some time in the late 70s.
posted by ardgedee at 6:11 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


In the year 2018, no one under the age of 60 is likely to know who Arthur Treacher is,

Ahem, a 55 and a 49 year old here....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:18 PM on May 30, 2018 [5 favorites]


46, I remember them barely.
posted by vrakatar at 6:26 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


Lum’s! Lord, those dogs were good.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:27 PM on May 30, 2018


Oh, fine, I'm 47 and I know Arthur Treacher's from a hole in the ground. There used to be a stand alone Arthur Treacher's on the main strip in my hometown in 1970s New Jersey.
posted by mollweide at 6:27 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


Oh, I stand corrected! At 46 I remembered the chain but not the actual guy. Thanks for the background.
posted by vrakatar at 6:31 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


I think the quote was that no one under 60 would know who Arthur Treacher, the very man himself, was.
posted by OHenryPacey at 6:31 PM on May 30, 2018 [4 favorites]


52, well remembered. There's a former locale in North Seattle on Lake City Way, now a tavern, that retains the weird oversized faux London gaslight sign above the roofline, sadly without Arthur's greasy visage.

Bonanza/Ponderosa, oh yeah. Lum's. Chi-Chi's. There was a PNW ice-cream parlor chain called Fuddrucker's, iirc. I remember a couple of small regional chains from the seventies in Southern Indiana too, The Ordinary, which became Poor Richards (pub food and burgers - oh man, those burgers) and a larger chain, Noble Roman's, a pizza chain that took deep dish Chicago-style pizza and rebranded it as Sicilian-style, cooked and served in square lasagne pans. Oh man, I would love to have that pizza again. They had the silent-movie shtick too, it's likely still the single venue where I have watched more Blackstone and Mack Sennet one reelers than any other.

There was another regional chain in Northern Indiana that did the peanut shells thing, the Pig and Whistle, the conceit being that you were in a British pub of a century prior.
posted by mwhybark at 6:36 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


ooh, I wonder if there's a Burger Chef!
posted by mwhybark at 6:38 PM on May 30, 2018 [5 favorites]


That's the Arthur Treacher's location I remember going to as a kid! I might have to take the drive over there just for nostalgia. I do have to say, though, I don't know how they ate at Arthur Treacher's and did not mention the hush puppies. The rare, delicious hush puppy were the only reason my sister and I ever wanted to eat there.
posted by Regal Ox Inigo at 6:41 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


Hmm. Do we need a blog that blogs whatever happened to now-defunct blogs?

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. It's all been downhill since we lost suck.com
posted by mikelieman at 6:54 PM on May 30, 2018 [9 favorites]


Five Guys is carrying on the barrels-of-peanuts-in-the-shell tradition.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:57 PM on May 30, 2018 [4 favorites]


ooh, I wonder if there's a Burger Chef!

I’m pretty sure they all became Hardee’s. One can only hope, though.
When I was a kid, you were either a Burger Chef family or a McD’s family. The Super Chef was miles above anything the golden arches could put out, then or now.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:57 PM on May 30, 2018


mwhybark, Fuddruckers still exists. I think you’re thinking of Farrell’s.
posted by emkelley at 7:44 PM on May 30, 2018 [13 favorites]


FINALLY I have a reason to tell y'all about the Dog Patch Restaurant of Munising, Michigan!

It is (as far as I can find) the last of a chain of Li'l Abner-themed restaurants, and it looks pretty much exactly how it did when it first opened in 1966. A few years ago while traveling through the U.P. we happened to stop there having no idea what it was besides a visibly non-threatening family establishment that would probably have decent food.

Having been born long after Li'l Abner ceased publication and having no frame of reference what so ever as to any of the characters on the walls and menus, I felt like I had entered another dimension. We spent our entire meal on our phones using the few bars of power we had left trying to make sense of what we were seeing. It was absolutely surreal.

Pretty good salad bar, too.
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! at 8:02 PM on May 30, 2018 [10 favorites]


I remember once as a kid being on a family trip somewhere in the USA. The motel we were staying in was just down the road from a Tax, but when I suggested we go there for dinner my parents said no because they thought it was a strip club.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 8:03 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


i had totally forgotten about Western Sizzlin' until literally this post, damn
posted by XtinaS at 8:24 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


Arthur Treacher's Fish and Chips-
The Meal You Can-not Make At Home
...still remember the jingle
posted by sundrop at 8:36 PM on May 30, 2018


mwhybark: "ooh, I wonder if there's a Burger Chef!"

Wikipedia says the last one closed in '96.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:45 PM on May 30, 2018


There used to be blogs documenting, e.g. things that used to be Arby's.....this kind of reminds me of that.....like banks with that unmistakable Flintstones look

He links to that blog in one of his entries. It's called You're Not Fooling Anybody. There's also a subreddit.

I think my favorite photo is the Arby's in an old Howard Johnson's Ice Cream building, captioned "28 flavors... OF MEAT!"
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:08 PM on May 30, 2018 [7 favorites]


No mention of Vip's, or the Vippy Bunny sadly. They were a west coast chain based out of Salem, or Eugene maybe? And a staple of the family road trips of my youth. IIRC, the kids menu was a bunny mask you could color in with the crayons that were at every table.

I always wanted a steak and a chocolate malt. Not sure I ever actually got the steak, but I never went without a tasty malt that came in a standard glass and the frost tinged tumbler it was mixed in that had another half glass at least in the bottom.
posted by calamari kid at 9:10 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


Our midcentury-cool Howard Johnson's, with its distinctive orange roof, sat empty for years after it closed. The surrounding businesses wouldn't let it be used for a shelter, so it sat crumbling until they found s buyer/developer willing to pay for demo. The hill's mostly smoothed out, and the parcel contains a Tops supermarket and gas station, Applebee's, Metro Mattress, a couple of small shops, and tons of parking. It really was impressive how efficiently they reused the space. But I still miss meeting my glamorous aunt and her cool single-gal friend (they were so Mary and Rhoda) at the HoJo's lounge!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:14 PM on May 30, 2018 [5 favorites]


My favorite was the old Victoria Station chain, which used actual boxcars and cabooses in their architecture. It doesn't seem to be mentioned in the blog in question, but a quick search shows that the last one shut down last year. I remember the last time I ate in one, a date back in high school before a dance: the franchisee had already changed to a Red Lobster, though the caboose and boxcar architecture remained. I don't think the food was very good, my date ended up vomiting on my shoes after the dance; iirc she had the lobster for diner. I remember wondering just how they got the rail cars on-site, with each on a custom-built mound of gravel, railway ties, and rails, right in the center of town, far away from any actual railway. Does anyone know how they built these restaurants? Did they build a rail, or just transport the needed materials via some other method?
posted by Blackanvil at 9:22 PM on May 30, 2018 [6 favorites]


Burger Chef was a chain?

I swear to god, I thought it was a single restaurant in my hometown—nothing more than the local McDonald's knock-off.
posted by she's not there at 10:30 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


At its peak, it was the second largest restaurant chain in the US.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:35 PM on May 30, 2018 [6 favorites]


I still remember trying to calculate the cost per unit of food at the Argyll Road Ponderosa.

I also remember looking up, seeing a weird sky, and telling my parents that a tornado was coming (thanks NatGeo!)

A bunch of people died shortly thereafter while I hid in the basement as my mom shouted at me to hide more than I was already hiding.

...Yaay, Ponderosa!
posted by aramaic at 10:53 PM on May 30, 2018 [7 favorites]


> In the year 2018, no one under the age of 60 is likely to know who Arthur Treacher is,

Ahem, a 55 and a 49 year old here....


44 year old, reporting in.
posted by desuetude at 11:30 PM on May 30, 2018


I literally had no idea Lum's was a big chain. There were three in Peoria when I was growing up, and each had its own quirks. It was the default landing spot when I was in high school; a friend systematically stole (over the course of a couple years) each element of an entire place setting, plus condiments, by the time we graduated. We told each other rumors that the different locations were owned by different brothers and one moved to Florida and got taken out by a mobster and/or an alligator (because that is what happens in Florida, if you're from Peoria), and that that was why they wound up closing down our three Lum's locations. One became a Denny's and now it's a Noodles & Company, and every time I'm back, I'm still a little mad I can't go eat at Lum's anymore.
posted by sldownard at 11:43 PM on May 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


re Burger Chef

hang on, whut? Bil Keane?
posted by mwhybark at 12:59 AM on May 31, 2018


The Lums chain always confused me growing up because there was a Chinese restaurant in town also named Lums which I remember because I went to high school and later worked with the owner’s daughter. She once told me how they prepped cabbage for egg rolls by placing several heads in a garbage bag between two pieces of sheet metal and driving a car over it several times. I also remember Western Sizzling very well. The original location was right around the corner from where I work. It had a dormitory behind it where workers from new locations would stay while they came to the original location to be trained. The chain was supposedly started here in Augusta GA because Nick Pascarella was touring the country looking for cheap land to build a restaurant on and while getting a flat tire repaired the tire store employees convinced him to build here. When I was about ten my football coach took the entire team out for steaks there after we beat the only undefeated team in the league.
posted by TedW at 2:52 AM on May 31, 2018 [3 favorites]


Came in here for Burger Chef. I think ours wound up being turned into a frozen yogurt place some time in the 80s.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 3:19 AM on May 31, 2018


> clawsoon:
"There used to be blogs documenting, e.g.

Hmm. Do we need a blog that blogs whatever happened to now-defunct blogs?"


This is METAfilter, so let's get META!
posted by Samizdata at 4:54 AM on May 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


> sldownard:
"I literally had no idea Lum's was a big chain. There were three in Peoria when I was growing up, and each had its own quirks. It was the default landing spot when I was in high school; a friend systematically stole (over the course of a couple years) each element of an entire place setting, plus condiments, by the time we graduated. We told each other rumors that the different locations were owned by different brothers and one moved to Florida and got taken out by a mobster and/or an alligator (because that is what happens in Florida, if you're from Peoria), and that that was why they wound up closing down our three Lum's locations. One became a Denny's and now it's a Noodles & Company, and every time I'm back, I'm still a little mad I can't go eat at Lum's anymore."

When did they shut down? They were still open when I lived up there. They and the Chinese place near St. Francis were my ex-partner and I's "We don't feel like cooking: go tos.
posted by Samizdata at 5:00 AM on May 31, 2018


Red Barn was a chain, right?
Yes indeed. I was looking for it in the blog. I sometimes go by a former Red Barn.
posted by MtDewd at 5:15 AM on May 31, 2018 [2 favorites]


Ah, Burger Chef. There was one in Canton, right by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Ground Round, with the old timey movies and peanut shells on the floor. I learned to roller skate across the street at U.S. Skates. There was a Roy Rogers in the mall then. To think, a time when Arby's had competitors. Right by Orange Julius. Down the street from Po' Folks. Sambo's, Red Barn, yes.

But does anyone else remember Lord Burger?
posted by SystematicAbuse at 5:53 AM on May 31, 2018


My favorite was the old Victoria Station chain, which used actual boxcars and cabooses in their architecture. It doesn't seem to be mentioned in the blog in question, but a quick search shows that the last one shut down last year.

And it wasn't done in by not making money, it was done in by the jerk property owners who refused to renew their lease so they could move a high end restaurant in there, thus freeing up space to develop a boutique hotel. One of the reasons I ended up moving to Salem was that Vic's Station - every year I'd play hooky one day in the spring/summer and have an okay steak experience by the water. Years later, my wife and I agreed to put in an offer on our house over a meal there.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:55 AM on May 31, 2018


Also, I really wonder if that Cap'n Taco out here used to be a chain. It sure looks like it was.
posted by SystematicAbuse at 5:56 AM on May 31, 2018


Disappointed to see no mentions of Flakey Jake’s, or Zoopa. They both occupied the same doomed restaurant space across the street from Southcenter Mall, first Flakey Jake’s, then Zoopa after Jake flaked. I had my first bout of food poisoning from questionable lettuce at the Zoopa salad bar. Good times, good times.
posted by palomar at 6:20 AM on May 31, 2018 [2 favorites]


There used to be a chain of White Tower burger restaurants that were very similar to White Castle and I drove by them for years but never went in and now I'm sad that I never did.
posted by octothorpe at 6:32 AM on May 31, 2018


I sometimes go by a former Red Barn.

Ah sure, Oscars in West Allis is probably one too.
posted by Kyol at 6:33 AM on May 31, 2018


Man, when I was a small kid, my parents would pack us in the car and drive from north Jersey to Ocean City, MD. Usually we'd go down the Parkway to Cape May, take the ferry to Lewes, and then a quick drive from there to OC. But one time Mom wanted to go by land the whole way.

The only reasonably high point of that trip was a stop at Lums. Dad loved it (he was originally from Baltimore) and we had a lunch there that was good.

I also remember fondly Howard Johnson's from another vacation trip, driving from NJ to Florida (I do not recommend you do this with two children in a 1970s era Buick Skyhawk ever), and stopping at hotels twice, and having dinner at one. I loved the ice cream.

I have a memory of a Ponderosa where a girl I was friends with in high school worked as a waitress. I was meeting her there for dinner the night she got fired when a man three times her age groped her ass as she was coming back from delivering a meal and she whacked him with her tray. She was told to get out immediately, and I said she was dining with me and she'd leave when I was finished with my meal, sir. (I got a refund and told to get out too.)

And Carroll's... there was one in the Paramus Park Mall for a bunch of years, until my teen years, when it was closed, torn out and turned into a McDonalds. (That McDs was so badly run that the people who owned the McDs I worked in just up Route 17 took over the franchise and a bunch of us got sent over to train the new crew. That was also the time of one of the worst moments working at McDs, but which I mean 'having to wear the Grimace suit'. It was horrible.)

o/~ Memories.....
posted by mephron at 6:53 AM on May 31, 2018 [2 favorites]


White trash you, say? Yes, that's where I come from.

One man’s white trash is another man’s white treasure
posted by brand-gnu at 7:00 AM on May 31, 2018 [3 favorites]


There used to be a chain of White Tower burger restaurants that were very similar to White Castle and I drove by them for years but never went in and now I'm sad that I never did.

Our Albany, NY White Tower has quite a history. First, it was moved from the original location to 12 Central Avenue, then it became quite the little music venue, QE2, then a dance club called the Fuze Box.
posted by mikelieman at 7:19 AM on May 31, 2018


I worked at a Ponderosa in high school. I have many stories!
Those strange old men who came in every evening and always sat by the staff break table so they could flirt with the teenage girls.
The girl who was fired for standing in the middle of the restaurant and yelling "Who ordered this fucking chicken?" because the customers had moved from their original table. (This may have been a Ponderosa urban legend.)
The customer who ate the decorative kale on the salad bar that we washed and reused.
I could never tell one cut of steak from another so I used to just plop them in front of the customers and run away.
They paid less than minimum wage and had no tipping signs. We weren't permitted to eat any of the food even if they were going to throw it out. I used to hide a slice of Boston cream pie in the walk-in and eat it when the manager wasn't looking.
I never ate at a Ponderosa again after I worked there and I'm certainly not driving to Michigan to visit one. Even if they let me eat pie in the walk-in.
posted by interplanetjanet at 8:27 AM on May 31, 2018 [12 favorites]


Another Burger Chef veteran here. They're sadly long gone.

Digging this blog, thanks.
posted by praemunire at 9:04 AM on May 31, 2018


The blog briefly mentions the Restaurant Rewind channel on YouTube, which has some pretty nice summaries of some other imploded chains, including my old favorite Dog 'n' Suds.

There's also a video about the fiasco behind the Minnie Pearl's Chicken stores.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:33 AM on May 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


I have eaten at that Ollie's Trolley (in Louisville) several times. I had no idea it had once been part of a bigger chain. Dizzy Whizz is better!

Louisville has started, and seen the deaths of a lot of mid-sized chains: Chi-Chi's, Tumbleweed, Texas Roadhouse, Rallys (now combined with Checkers), Papa John's (sorry), among others.
posted by DigDoug at 9:40 AM on May 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


I can confirm that Ollie's in DC (Washington Post article) is pretty decent. From the WaPo:
“Would you like Ollie Sauce with that?” the cashier asked me. “What’s Ollie Sauce?” I said. “Thousand Island dressing,” she replied, apparently unconcerned about giving up the trade secret.
posted by AndrewInDC at 10:06 AM on May 31, 2018


In high school, Thursday was National Hot 'N Now day with a location within walking distance of our campus. On occasion, we'd bring a card table and folding chairs in the trunk and create our own seating in the parking lot.

The food was cheap, hot and mostly gross but this article brought back a lot of good memories of being 17 and carefree and also full of cheese-filled tater tots and bolt burgers.
posted by Twicketface at 10:10 AM on May 31, 2018


My dad and I used to love Arthur Treacher's back in the day, but Mom claimed it made her sick.
My only specific Rax memory involved eating there after seeing "JFK" in a theater.
Lum's was my first experience with steak fries. Nothing has come close ever since.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 10:28 AM on May 31, 2018


Huh. No mention of Carroll's? IIRC they were assimilated by Burger King some time in the late 70s.


There was a Carroll's in Batavia, NY. It seemed like it would've been a chain, but I'd never seen nor heard anyone ever speak of any other Carroll's so I thought it might be a single location. It was converted to a Burger King or something in the 80's, and then more recently converted into a Bob's Big Boy.
Batavia also had an Arby's, an Arthur Treachers, a Red Barn, and a Dairy Queen, as well as a bunch of the more ubiquitous chains
Last time I was up that way there was a diner in the old Red Barn building still sporting it's big ole' gambled roof.
posted by newpotato at 10:30 AM on May 31, 2018 [2 favorites]


Thanks for that Red Barn jingle earworm. "When the Hungries hit, HIT the Red Barn!" As I recall, their food was vile.

I waited tables at a Ground Round in Camillus, NY, for a few months. They had phased out the peanuts, which were deemed a fire hazard, and served popcorn instead. We often said, "Have you popped that table yet?" to each other. Their food was just fine, standard bar food.

I loved Arthur Treacher's when I was a kid - malt vinegar! So exotic! Way better than (ew) tartar sauce.
posted by corvikate at 10:43 AM on May 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


I went to a Ground Round somewhere, maybe in former Confederate capital Danville, Virginia? Or was that where I went to Howard Johnson's? Anyway, my father took me there and from what I can remember was very invested in me liking the food. Maybe he was just sick of eating at McDonald's whenever he was out with me and eager to broaden my tastes so he could have a beer with his beefsteak and salad when he was traveling, the way God intended.
posted by infinitewindow at 2:55 PM on May 31, 2018


The demise of Howard Johnson’s always made me wonder where they will put the purple-roofed ethical suicide parlors. And young folks from here on will never get the “orange roof on Howard Johnson's outhouse reference in Blazing Saddles.
posted by TedW at 3:28 PM on May 31, 2018 [2 favorites]


Fun fact: Jacques Pepin made his bones working on the Howard Johnson's menu in the 60s.
posted by rhizome at 3:38 PM on May 31, 2018 [4 favorites]


Stopping regularly at Howard Johnson's During our 1973 Florida vacation is something I'll always remember for the vibrancy of the colour. Coming from an Ontario winter, it felt Kodak psychedelic. Everything was new and clean. My dad always ordered club sandwiches with the frilly topped toothpick in it.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:01 PM on May 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


My dad used to call it Arthur Treacher's Fish and Creatures, which, perhaps understandably, kind of put me off the brand as a kid.
posted by merriment at 6:41 PM on May 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


Oh snap! I have eaten at the Dog Patch in Munising too. I didn't know it was part of a defunct chain and didn't even pay much mind to the decor. I got to start looking at the world with soft eyes.
posted by riruro at 6:44 PM on May 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


Fun Fact: Ground Round was owned by Howard Johnson’s
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:15 PM on May 31, 2018 [2 favorites]


Arthur Treacher's Fish and Creatures

Well, there really is no telling wot's been dredged up from the Thames and served with chips now innit
posted by mwhybark at 7:46 PM on May 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


Stopping regularly at Howard Johnson's During our 1973 Florida vacation is something I'll always remember for the vibrancy of the colour.

Was a highlight of my trip, too, around the same time.
posted by thelonius at 8:08 PM on May 31, 2018


Man, I want some G.D. Ritzy's right now

Thanks a lot
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:53 PM on May 31, 2018


There was a Hot ‘n’ Now in Port Huron, across the river from my parents’ home in Sarnia. In the mid-90s a friend of mine who was super into junk food, the junkier the better, visited from Toronto and we went over the river. He saw the Hot ‘n’ Now sign from the street (IIRC the burgers were 29 cents); I was like “You don’t want to eat there, it sucks,” but he just about caused a car accident swerving into the drive-through, bought like six or eight of them and devoured them immediately in the parking lot.

Also in Port Huron, I believe Chicken In The Rough was once a regional chain and the one there (which is fantastic) is the last. It has a truly incredible website.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:10 PM on May 31, 2018


We still have a Ponderosa. I say "we," but it's a couple towns over. Bit over a half-hour drive. I didn't know they were endangered. I remember going there as a kid, before it was a buffet.

There's still an A&W in that town, too.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:19 PM on May 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


A&W has been aggressively expanding here in Ontario, with 40 locations within 18km of me in Toronto. They overhauled the brand, starting about 10 years ago, and now sell hormone free burgers, purportedly use local farm sources, less wasteful packaging. They've kept the brown/orange thing going and the burger menu is the same.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:04 AM on June 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


And the fries are really good.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:12 AM on June 1, 2018


Anybody remember Gulliver’s? Philadelphia-area fish n’ chips chain?

I remember going occasionally as a kid and thinking it was exotic because they didn’t serve burgers. My tastes were not terribly refined.

On reflection, what’s up with all the now-defunct fried fish chains? Is it just a thing nobody likes anymore? Or was there only a brief window in time when they were popular?
posted by panama joe at 5:03 AM on June 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


Going to Columbus, OH over the weekend and just realized that there are White Castles there and I've never actually been to one.
posted by octothorpe at 6:28 AM on June 1, 2018


panama joe: "On reflection, what’s up with all the now-defunct fried fish chains?"

North Atlantic fisheries crashed which must have had an effect on affordability of the fish part of it.
posted by Mitheral at 7:22 AM on June 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


> On reflection, what’s up with all the now-defunct fried fish chains?

I really think it's down to the fact that take-out deep fried fish and chips just doesn't work. Once the fish cools down it gets really soggy and gross, because the liquid in the fish (which has to be there to keep it tender) softens the batter and the whole thing turns to mush. Chicken works okay because it's still good if it's pretty dry, but the whole point of fried fish is the contrast between the crunchy batter outside and tender steamy fish hotness of it, and you don't get that if it's dry or re-heated. Even the hushpuppies got kind of rancid when they cooled down. You gotta eat that stuff right out of the fryer.

And people want their drive-thru and take-out, and burgers & fries keep "fresh" much longer.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:09 AM on June 1, 2018 [4 favorites]


"Desperate for an update on the remaining Chi-Chi's (allegedly the last one exists in Utah)."
The last of them are overseas, I will never forget how surreal it was coming across a ChiChis on one of the most trafficked boulevards in Brussels. No matter how much I tried to explain how badly I wanted to eat there out of compulsive nostalgia, it only seemed to make the place less appealing to my partner.

Yes its terrible. No, no, its even more inauthentic than it looks, but can food really be inauthentic? What we'd be served would indeed be real something right? In being 'Mexican' food filtered through a Texan lens that is filtered through broad American tastes, and then mashed through the filter of American corporate casual dining supply chains it is still authentically just that after all. No we probably won't get that type hepatitis we don't have a cure for yet, but the risk is worth it for the tolerable food and watered down margaritas!

Its apparently still exploitatively franchised by a Swiss investment company that appears to have either forgotten or simply given up on enforcing whatever franchise requirements there once were. Before the one in Brussels finally shut down a couple months ago it got new owners that briefly made it Halal and infused the menu with Euro-Turkish street cuisine to make a fusion that was unfortunately a lot less exciting than it sounds but just as sober. We've still got more elsewhere in Belgium though, somehow kept alive it seems by the terrible lack of food that could be credibly described as either Mexican or Tex-Mex that is slowly sorting itself out.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:25 AM on June 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


As an American who lived in Brussels for ~6 months back in 2000, I would have killed for even half decent Mexican. I only found one place that was extraordinarily mediocre. Likewise there seemed to be a dearth of chicken wings as well.

Of course they made up for that in endless quantities of moules frites and biere blanche.
posted by mmascolino at 11:11 AM on June 1, 2018


On reflection, what’s up with all the now-defunct fried fish chains?

Cod and haddock are a lot scarcer, and so more expensive, than they used to be.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:22 PM on June 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


Del Taco is a chain that has had its ups and downs over the years. It looks like it is making a comeback, so maybe it doesn't really fit here. But I haven't eaten there in years, so have no idea if it is as good as I remember. I was a huge fan of their green burrito, but I don't think this is what I fondly remember from sneaking off campus for lunch in 1979 high school. And I am pretty sure that the wikipedia article doesn't accurately reflect their distribution in the late 70s-early 80s, given that there were two Del Taco restaurants in Augusta, Georgia. They did close in the late 1980s-early 1990s (after trying a "cantina" version that included beer on the menu, which was really cool for college aged me.) After that the only time I was able to eat there was at the only two locations remaining in Georgia, which were at one of the Covington/Conyers exists on I-20 east of Atlanta (I don't remember exactly where on the map but could definitely point it out while driving) and St. Simon's Island. The latter location was the only location east of the Mississippi until it closed sometime in the 2000s. They may be making a comeback in the southeast, but probably won't match my sweet imagination. Meanwhile, of the two Del Tacos her in Augusta, one was expanded into an actual sit-down Mexican restaurant, and the other became a Taco Bell. That is particularly ironic given that the original Taco Bell in that area is just a few hundred yards down the road and after several different incarnations is now an Indian restaurant.
posted by TedW at 8:38 PM on June 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


I've never had a problem finding a Del Taco in Southern California. Which is cool because I kinda like their tacos.

Here's two across the street from each other:

https://goo.gl/maps/Bmwizs49gnk
posted by bunbury at 9:10 PM on June 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


Sadly, it appears a sole surviving Burger Chef passed away in early 2015.

Happily, there is an internet-obsessive site on the chain.
posted by mwhybark at 10:38 AM on June 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


Samizdata, according to this (google cache, pjstar denies my filthy GDPR-needing Euro-IP access) Dave and Ernie closed up "around the turn of the century." But we'll always have the video memories...
posted by sldownard at 6:49 AM on June 3, 2018


Cod and haddock

Cod and Haddock sounds like a law firm
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:51 AM on June 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Cod and Haddock sounds like a law firm

"We take all the fishiest cases. Just give us a fin on retainer."

/groucho voice
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:11 AM on June 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


This is just fantastic and I like it a lot. But this:

"There was even a disposal slot in the bathroom for old double edged razor blades.

Side note: I always found these disposal slots in old buildings novel, because they would just lead to a space between the wall studs and plaster. Over time, the wall would theoretically fill up with razor blades and couldn't be emptied. I suppose architects figured that buildings wouldn't last long enough for it to ever be an issue, and given how few people shave with double edged razors and their small size relative to the space where they'd be disposed of inside the walls, they were probably right in most cases."


Is some of the maddest shit I've ever heard. For reals this was a thing?
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:40 PM on June 6, 2018


Yeah? I mean even figuring a 12" center and a slot say 4' off the floor, that's a _huuuuge_ volume for razor blades. Anyway, yeah, grandma's house had one in the back of the medicine cabinet.
posted by Kyol at 6:47 PM on June 6, 2018


And when you renovate a bathroom of that era down to the studs you sometimes have a sudden pile of rusty razor blades to deal with.

It’s a little parable about capitalism. Shove the externalities away for someone else to deal with.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:53 PM on June 6, 2018


My medicine cabinet right now, which I've seen at Home Depot but probably is from the 80s, has a blade disposal slot in the back. I've taken the cabinet out and there are about 100 blades on a crossmember in the hollow of the wall.
posted by rhizome at 11:21 PM on June 6, 2018


Way to arm the goblins that live behind the drywall.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:22 AM on June 7, 2018


turbid dahlia: "Is some of the maddest shit I've ever heard. For reals this was a thing?"

Not only in medicine cabinets. You could also get tiles and wall outlets with built in slots.

When I built my shop I installed a long length of 4" ABS pipe in the wall with an angled length of 1.5" sticking out of the wall. I cut the 1.5" length flush with the wall and then screwed a blank electrical wall plate with a slot cut in it over the hole. It's used to dispose of utility and box cutter blades without leaving a rusty sharp mess for some poor person a 100 years from now in the wall.
posted by Mitheral at 7:45 PM on June 8, 2018 [2 favorites]


That sounds like going halfway when you could have added a second elbow end and blank wall plate at the lower half, to easily empty the pipe now and then.
posted by ardgedee at 6:13 AM on June 9, 2018


Even at a reckless consumption rate of a couple blades a week I'm never going to fill the pipe.
posted by Mitheral at 8:55 PM on June 9, 2018


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