7 Family Restaurant Chains That Went Out of Business

It was always a special night when your parents took you out to eat as a child – because what could be more exciting than going to your favorite restaurant and ordering one of your favorite meals? While I’m not knocking Mom’s home cooking, seeing a meal you specifically ordered arrive at your table brings pure joy. 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.

But what was once your favorite place to eat may be nothing more than a memory now, as so many restaurants couldn’t stand the test of time. Whether it’s due to competition, bad publicity, or just a lack of appeal to consumers, the eateries you knew and loved may not exist these days.

These are some of the once favorite family restaurant chains that are no longer in business. After you learn what happened to these restaurants, be sure to check out 4 restaurant chains making the biggest comebacks after bankruptcy.

Gino's Hamburgers sign and facade
Keith Swango / Everybody Goes To Gino’s via Facebook

Families who love football know that this fan-favorite facility was founded in 1957 by NFL Hall of Famer Gino Marchetti. The decor featured sports memorabilia that football fanatics looked at while enjoying staples like the Gino Giant burger. To make this dish even more family friendly, they had packaged family deals that could feed a party of five for under $2. After Gino’s Hamburgers opened for business, it reportedly thrived throughout the mid-Atlantic until the 80s, when Marriott bought out the hamburger chain and merged it with its Roy Rogers brand.

In 2010, a similar-but-different restaurant called Gino’s Burgers and Chicken opened, bringing 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 stop will have their own special hall of fame spot in their hearts.

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@redbarnofravenna via Facebook

Back in the day, when families were craving a good burger, Red Barn was the place to go. You can enjoy its signature Big Barney or Barnbuster burgers and feel like you’re sitting on a farm. This once huge franchise first opened in 1961 and soon took the world by storm. At the height of its popularity, Red Barn reportedly had around 300–400 restaurants worldwide. But alas, just as quickly as its success grew, it crashed and burned. After a series of mergers and sales, Red Bard was eventually acquired by City Investing Company, which then allegedly 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.

Old country buffet
George Sheldon/Shutterstock

The beauty of restaurant buffets is that customers can choose from a wide variety of food, so you never have to settle for just one dish. This is especially perfect for those indecisive kids who go from wanting chicken fingers to pizza in seconds. The Old Country Buffet provided that opportunity to families looking for a satisfying meal with plenty of variety.

After a series of poor business decisions culminating in the financial strains of the covid-19 pandemic, the brand closed its doors, Restaurant business reported. According to Minneapolis/St. Paul Business JournalOld Country Buffet’s parent company, Fresh Acquisitions, filed for bankruptcy in April 2021. After eventually being acquired by BBQ Holdings, Old Country Buffet’s fate still hangs in the balance, as the company has reportedly yet to take any immediate steps to revamp and relaunch this buffet brand .

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henry's hamburger sign
Henry’s Hamburger / Facebook

Henry’s Hamburgers is a beloved malt, milkshake and hamburger chain that started in the 60s. It quickly developed into a hamburger phenomenon, expanding to over 200 restaurants across the United States—even competing with McDonald’s. At one point, customers couldn’t get enough of this establishment’s 15-cent burger. But its success unfortunately couldn’t compete with the huge amount of fast food businesses that developed over the years, leading to massive closures in the 1970s. Today, the once-thriving chain has been reduced to a location in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

hamburger chef restaurant exterior
Burger Chef / Facebook

Those who grew up in the 60s and 70s may remember how Burger Chef was way ahead of its time, even patenting the flame broiler and creating the first fast food for kids. Between 1968 and 1972, the restaurant chain grew rapidly from 600 to 1,000 franchise locations across the country. But that success was short-lived thanks to increased competition in the fast-food industry. McDonald’s dealt Burger Chef a major blow after launching its Happy Meal in 1979, and Burger Chef attempted to level the playing field by filing a lawsuit against the franchise that was ultimately settled out of court. While Burger Chef tried to keep up with the continued innovations of brands like McDonald’s and Burger King thereafter, this once-beloved chain just couldn’t keep up. Although no longer around, today Burger Chef’s legacy lives on through Hardee’s, which took over the fast food chain in 1981 and gave the restaurants a total makeover.

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Jim Lambert/Shutterstock

What might be the most family-friendly restaurant chain on this list, GameWorks was a great place for kids to enjoy food and entertainment all in one. Founded in 1996, GameWorks was a tag-team venture between video game company Sega and animation studio DreamWorks. Additionally, Steven Spielberg lent a helping hand as a creative consultant. The company provided customers with a themed dining experience that offered a full-service arcade, bowling and billiards.

Unfortunately, this distinctive restaurant lost its dream team when DreamWorks pulled out of business in 2001. After going through a few bankruptcy filings, in September 2020, GameWorks attempted to recover by filing for an IPO. But according to an article from FSR newspaper, “Documentation showed that since August 2017, the company had experienced three consecutive years of losses totaling $28.9 million, and the chain acknowledged that it may not be able to achieve profitability in the near term or at all.”

After the restaurant/entertainment center experienced a slew of mandatory closings, the remaining six GameWorks locations shuttered their doors in late 2021.

Howard Johnson's restaurant
Anne Richard/Shutterstock

Once considered the largest restaurant chain in America, Howard Johnson’s was at its peak in the 60’s and 70’s. Known for its fried clams, hot dogs, 28 signature ice cream flavors, adults and children alike made many happy memories at this beloved family-friendly restaurant. Unfortunately, that all changed when the brand was acquired by Marriott Corp. 1985. Under Marriott’s ownership, Howard Johnson restaurants continued to close left and right, as greater emphasis was placed on the lodging segment of the brand’s business portfolio. Eventually, the Lake George, NY, location – and last HoJo restaurant – officially closed for good in 2022.


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