Some restaurant chains may be on the brink of disappearing forever


The restaurant biz, which has been undergoing tough times in recent years, has taken further blows in the Age of COVID.

Now, the National Restaurant Association worries that some well-known eateries won't be able to recover from the reduced volume, labor shortages and high overhead brought on by the pandemic. Some, it's feared, may have to close completely. Here are some major chains that could be in danger of vanishing.

Applebee's

Opened in 1980, the chain has closed more than 120 locations and is down to only about 1,200 nationwide. Deals like $1 cocktails, healthier options, and delivery services have failed to bring customers back, and more locations could shutter.

Baja Fresh

The Mexican grill opened in the '90s and was known for top-of-the-line food. More than 300 locations used fresh ingredients and topped everything with their Salsa Baja. But, after Wendy's bought the chain, sales began to decline, so it was sold to cut losses. Today, there are only 165 left worldwide.

Bar Louie

Bar Louie has seen better days and has gone into substantial debt. At one time, there were 134 locations in 26 states, but they've filed for bankruptcy because their growth was too fast and sales took a dive. They are currently over $100 million debt with just 79 locations remaining.

Benihana

The restaurants, centered around Japanese cuisine, were founded in 1964 in New York. Even before the coronavirus, branches were closing all over the world. Currently, only about 76 locations remain in the U.S., Central and South America, and the Caribbean.

Bojangles'

Today, this chain remains mostly in North and South Carolina, where there's a strong love of chicken and biscuits. Most locations in Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky have closed. New owners are trying changes to bring in new patrons, but it looks like they may be forced to shut the whole thing down.

Boston Market

Boston Market peaked in the '90s with over 1,100 locations. When they filed for Chapter 11, they shut the doors on 700. The menu hasn't changed in years, and younger diners aren't fans. To stay afloat, they plan to open new locations in the Middle East, but their U.S. operations are flailing.

Brio Tuscan Grille and Bravo! Cucina Italiana

The parent company, FoodFirst Global Restaurants, filed for Chapter 11 in April, so these two chains found themselves in trouble. Brio, for example, closed 71 of 92 locations, and the rest are on the bubble. There still may be hope for these two ... the restaurant company Earl Enterprises has acquired both.

Buffalo Wild Wings

The sports-and-grub chain raised prices by 10% to offset the rising cost of labor and food, so customers bolted. The company is trying to turn some locations into franchises to stay operational. There are currently around 1,200 locations, half owned by franchisees.

Burger King

One of the best-known names in the fast-food game is not doing too well. They've closed over 250 locations in the last couple of years to hold off bankruptcy. They are presently revamping locations.

Carl's Jr.

The original, founded in 1945, was called Carl's Drive-In Barbecue. Over time, the name and menu changed, and recently it's been hit hard by changes in health trends. The parent company has also been in hot water for allegedly discriminating against older employees. Locations have been closing one by one, and soon there may be none left.

Carrabba's Italian Grill

Owned today by Bloomin' Brands, it was founded by Houston's Carrabba family in 1986. The family-style Italian restaurant has scores of spots across the country, but many have been closed due to poor performance. Bloomin' Brands also owns Bonefish Grill and Outback Steakhouse, some of which they've also closed.

Checkers and Rally’s

These restaurants have been closing locations every year as a result of poor sales and low standards of cleanliness. A number of locations have received health code violations, giving the whole chain a bad reputation.

The Cheesecake Factory

Launched in 1972, this was a bakery that transitioned into a restaurant. The chain saw a lot of growth until they got hit with rising labor costs and changing dining-out habits. They've also endured a number of legal issues, and there are now only 195 restaurants left.

Chipotle

The chain is suffering. They've been in the game since 1993, but health concerns repeatedly put this chain in the news and reduced business. Some 65 locations have closed.

Dave & Buster's

The future is not looking bright, as the chain is reportedly at a high risk of permanent closure. It doesn't offer delivery or takeout, and since it makes money from games inside the restaurant, temporary closures have affected revenue. The company has furloughed employees, could be for sale, and going out of business is a possibility.

Del Frisco’s Grille

The popular award-winning steakhouse was purchased by a restaurant group in 2018, a private-equity firm in 2019, and finally Landry's restaurant group. The result: shutting down underperforming restaurants in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Massachusetts.

Denny's

Initially an early '50s coffee shop named Denny's Donuts, it grew into a diner-style chain with table service and international franchisees. More than 1,500 locations operate nationwide, but 15 were permanently closed recently by a franchisee in upstate New York. Denny's may be okay if they can avoid any repeats of recent discrimination lawsuits.

Denny's offers free breakfast to promote sales

Eat'n Park

Mostly found in Ohio and Pennsylvania and known for their Superburgers and Smiley cookies, these places have something of a cult following. While the name suggests that you eat in your car, that's not the case. Six locations closed in 2019. There are still 61 left, but fans may be seeing fewer if the trend continues.

Friendly’s

This used to be the spot for a family-style dinner and delicious ice cream. At one time, there were around 500 locations, but they filed for bankruptcy in 2011. That was was supposed to help but only produced more damage. They are working on a revamp, but customers have already abandoned them. There are only 167 locations left, mostly on the East Coast.

Fuddruckers

Launched in Houston with "the world's greatest hamburgers," the chain was incredibly popular. However, it got badly hit in the 2008 financial crisis and is now owned by Luby's, which is on the verge of liquidation. There are just 150 locations still in operation, and it's hard to tell if they will survive.

Golden Corral

One of the oldest around, the chain originally opened in the early 1970s. The all-you-can-eat buffet is no longer a big hit in the days of health awareness, and hundreds of locations have closed with just 500 remaining. Rebranding and remodeling is their latest effort.

Hard Rock Cafe

In May, the downtown Houston location permanently closed, and restaurants in Phoenix and California also called it quits. Still, there are branches to visit in more than 70 countries. The chain has been operating for nearly 50 years.

Hometown Buffet

Buffet style restaurants have long been on their way out, with many diners being more health conscious. So Hometown Buffet has had to file for bankruptcy no less than three times. They recently closed 92 locations.

Hooters

In the age of female empowerment, Hooters has seen a slow and steady decline. And the outfits don't do much to help their cause. In an attempt to get with the times, some locations are now "Hoots," where the waitresses dress more conservatively. More than 7% of the locations have closed, losing millions in earnings.

Houlihan's

Houlihan's was a happy hour go-to spot, but they seem to be unable to attract younger demographics. The former owners filed for bankruptcy in 2019 and were bought out by Landry's for around $40 million, the amount of their debt. There used to be 84 locations, but now there are just 47. It's not looking good.

IHOP

The International House of Pancakes has been around since 1958, but desires for healthier food has brought this chain to its knees. In 2018, the company tried to rebrand itself as a diner rather than than an all-day breakfast place. Even jokingly renaming themselves the International House of Burgers didn't work, and nearly 50 locations have closed.

Jack in the Box

Jack badly trails the success of its major competitors Burger King and McDonald's. They've been focused heavily on customer experience and food quality, but a company report says several hundred locations have been operating at a loss for years.

Joe's Crab Shack

About a decade ago, there were nearly 140 locations nationwide. Today, around 60 are left, operating at a $16.6 million loss. The chain filed for bankruptcy in 2017 and shut down 41 locations without giving employees any notice. Angry tip-free employees and higher prices for customers have pushed all parties to a point of no return. They are just about toast.

Krystal

Krystal has a menu similar to White Castle. They had around 360 locations but closed many due to financial hardship. The chain, up to $100 million in debt, filed for bankruptcy in January. Some feel the chain will disappear within the next two years.

Kona Grill

This Asian-cuisine chain opened in 1998 and remained very profitable until 2015, when sales began to drop. Costs were cut on nearly everything, affecting food quality and service. By the end of 2019, the chain had filed for bankruptcy and 19 locations have been closed so far. A buyer is being sought.

Le Pain Quotidien

Famous for communal tables, the international chain of bakery restaurants has been in the United States since 1997, but it has shut down more than half of its branches due to the coronavirus. The company filed for bankruptcy in May, but operators in New York have been okayed to reopen 35 of 98 locations.

Luby's

The Texas-born chain has always been known for deep-frying just about everything. Before the health revolution, it seemed you could find one of the cafeterias on nearly every corner. But, as a result of people becoming more health-conscious, more than 85 locations have closed. The company is on the verge of liquidation, so it's expected more will follow.

Marie Callender's

You probably know this name from the microwave fare sold at grocery stores. Marie was a real person, and her pies were so popular in the 1940s that she opened up a restaurant. It eventually became a chain which recently filed for bankruptcy due to massive debt. There used to be 50 Marie Callender's - today there are just 24.

McCormick & Schmick's

This steak-and-seafood restaurant was bought out in 2016 by the same company that owns Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. Sales have plummeted since the purchase, and the original 85 locations have been reduced to just 36. The future looks bleak.

Outdoor dining at McCormick & Schmick's

Noodles & Company

This chain has been in trouble for some time, slowly and quietly closing unprofitable locations - more than 60 so far. They've introduced healthier noodles, but it's not clear if they will survive.

O’Charley’s

Famous for its Southern cuisine and style, this chain got its start in the Midwest and South. Sales have been steadily declining along with food quality. They were also hit with several large lawsuits regarding customer safety and employee pay defaults. There are fewer that 190 locations left, with more shutting down regularly.

Old Country Buffet

Opened in 1983, this buffet-style restaurant fed families on small budgets pretty well, and at one time had more than 700 locations. Recently, though, they've gone through three bankruptcies, had health code violations, and there are only 17 restaurants left.

Papa John's Pizza

This outfit suffered a major hit to the brand in 2018 when its controversial founder, John Schattner, blamed protesting NFL players for lower than usual pizza sales. The NFL and Papa John's parted ways, the stores lost sales, and stores closed. The chain still has more than 3,000 locations nationwide, but that could change.

Papa Murphy's

Papa Murphy's started as a 1995 merger of two take-and-bake pizza companies - Papa Aldo's Pizza, and Murphy's Pizza. Customers could pick up a cold pizza at the restaurant, then cook it in their own oven. Apparently, however, customers prefer ready-to-eat pizza - sales have been declining for several years, and franchisees have been closing weaker stores.

Pappas Restaurants

Texas Monthly named this the best steakhouse in Texas in its December 2007 issue. This year, the family-run business permanently closed five of their 49 branches in Houston, the restaurant's hometown. And it cut its 90 restaurants nationwide down to 85 due to the pandemic.

Perkins

Launched in Cincinnati in the late '50s, it became an instant hit thanks to their buttermilk pancakes. In 2011, however, they filed for bankruptcy and began closing locations. Many disappeared without any warning.

Pie Five

Eight locations closed in 2019 due to a drop in sales. The pizza joint is now down to 65 locations from 100 in 2017. There soon may not be any at all.

Pieology

The fast-casual pizza chain offers a create-your-own pizza and operates in 21 states. Recently, four of five Michigan shops closed due to "unfortunate circumstances beyond our control," according to a sign posted in one. The chain used to have more than 135 locations.

Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut was once a genuine, sit-down restaurant - a place for dates, birthday parties, and family dinners. Today, it's strictly a takeout business that's closed 450 locations, vastly reducing their visability while hoping to stay relevant and afloat.

PizzaRev

The Southern California chain used to be a growing fast-casual pizza concept. But there was reportedly already trouble before the pandemic - 44 restaurants in 2016 fell to 32 by 2019. Since then, the chain has permanently closed more than half of its locations in Los Angeles County and Las Vegas. They're currently running only 13 stores.

Pollo Tropical

In 2018, 14 locations closed in Georgia and Florida due to low earnings. There are still 150 locations in Florida, but they're all gone in Georgia. The chain has a loyal following in Florida, but they may be seeing the demise soon.

Ponderosa Steakhouse

This used to be the go-to steakhouse of the South, but the 2008 recession damaged the chain beyond repair. The parent company filed for bankruptcy, and new owners FAT Brands have been been quietly shutting doors, leaving only 100 spots around the world.

Potbelly Sandwich Shop

In 2019, the company launched an attempt at recovering finacially by closing 22 locations and expanding delivery services throughh DoorDash. Despite that effort, the Chicago-based chain has had to close more locations. There are still 400 company-owned locations and around 40 franchises, but it's still not clear what's ahead.

Qdoba

The Mexican restaurant, launched in 1995, looks like it's in trouble. Formally owned by Jack in the Box, the chain was sold in 2017 after health scares and sales slumps. Their 700 locations appear to be declining in number every year.

Quiznos

The sandwich chain opened in 1981 and has seen better days. Always in the shadow of rival Subway, many stores have disappeared recently. Of the 5,000 locations that once existed, only 400 remain. And sales continue to erode.

Red Robin

Labor costs, health issues and fewer customers due to poor service have put Red Robin very close to closing for good. In 2018, they lost $10.6 million and closed a number of locations, leaving just 562. They could file for bankruptcy at any moment.

Roy Rogers

The "singing cowboy" opened his namesake burger place in the late '60s, and by the '90s there were more than 600 locations. After being sold to Imasco, the brand took a nosedive when most locations were renamed Hardee's. At last count there were fewer than 50 Roy Rogers left in the entire country.

Rubio's Coastal Grill

This fast-casual Mexican chain specializes in fish tacos. It's not currently on the brink of closing down entirely, but they have shut all 12 of their Colorado and Florida locations permanently because of the pandemic. The company still has 170 restaurants in California, Arizona, and Nevada where they will be shifting focus.

Ruby Tuesday

Around since 1972, the chain has been losing customers due to lower standards for their once-popular drinks and fresh ingredients. In recent years, 76 restaurants have closed.

Sbarro

Sbarro has been around for 20 years but has recently seen a decline in revenue. Customers apparently aren't impressed with pizza quality and the fact that the stores, usually located in food courts at malls, don't deliver. With shopping malls becoming a thing of the past, Sbarro is milllions in debt and has closed hundreds of locations, including their iconic spot in Times Square.

Sonic

"America’s favorite drive-in" has seen sales drop for some time. They're trying to appeal to younger diners, now offering an order-ahead smartphone app and half-price drinks and shakes during certain times of the day.

Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes

The first location opened in 1978 in San Diego as a self-service salad bar and all-you-can-eat buffet. In March, all 97 locations temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Two months later, the outfit had gone out of business.

Specialty's Cafe & Bakery

They served soup, salads, cookies, and sandwiches for 13 years in California, Washington, and Illinois. But in May, the chain closed all 40 locations permanently.

Steak 'n Shake

This is oldest chain on this list. The 24/7 restaurants debuted in 1934, but they have shut down more than 100 locations in recent years to stay afloat. A complete rebranding in in progress in hopes of boosting sales.

Subway

Subway was considered one of the first healthy-choice chains, but Americans eventually realized that not everything on the menu was as healthy as claimed. Location closings began in 2014 because the chain grew too fast and profits declined. In recent years, around 1,100 locations have shuttered. There are still around 24,000 in operation, but many are planned for closing in years to come.

Starbucks

There may still be a Starbucks on nearly every corner, but the chain has had a few rough years. In 2019, 150 locations closed due to poor performance. Don't panic, though ... you'll still find 30,000 shops around the world.

Taco Bell

This chain is suffering from competition and over-extended finances. Despite changing health trends, loyal fans seem to keep hanging on. But they closed six locations in 2019, and while that may not seem like many, closing locations is a first for them and not a good sign.

Taco Cabana

In January, the owners announced they would be closing 19 locations in an effort to improve margins. There are 38 left in New Mexico and Texas.

Tad’s Steaks

This affordable steak chain first opened near Times Square in 1960. However, it's now a thing of the past in the Big Apple, closing due to economic troubles. At one time, the chain had eight locations in New York and 28 nationwide. They have just one left, in San Francisco, and might soon be facing extinction.

TGI Friday’s

Once one of the most popular chains around, Friday's saw a major revenue loss in 2019 and closed many locations. They have been purchasing underperforming franchises and redoing menus to boost profits. At last count, there were about 830 locations worldwide with ablout 380 in the U.S.

Tim Hortons

If you're in Canada, there's nothing to worry about. Only the branches in the U.S. might be on the brink of completely vanishing. Locations throughout the 12 states where the quick-serve spots operate are seeing declining sales due to various factors. Some are closing because of competition from Starbucks and Dunkin', while some are having problems with franchisees.

TooJay’s

TooJay’s Original Gourmet Deli's first restaurant opened in Palm Beach in 1981. In April, however, the chain declared bankruptcy due to impacts of the coronavirus. A $6.4 million Paycheck Protection Loan helped cover payroll and expenses, but we'll see.

Zinburger

The pandemic has taken a toll on this burger joint chain. Fifteen of 18 restaurants on the East Coast have gone out of business, and just six are open in Arizona.

PHOTOS: Getty Images

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