5 Restaurant Chains We’ve Lost Forever This Year — Eat This Not That

The pandemic has led to widespread closures in the restaurant industry, but the consensus on the extent of these closures continues to evolve. A new report from The Washington Post suggests that the initial figures may have slightly overestimated the seriousness of the situation.

A commonly cited figure is the National Restaurant Association’s estimate of 90,000 pandemic-related closures in 2020. While this number has been repeated in national media, it may not be entirely accurate.

Using data collected from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Washington Post arrived at his own estimate, slightly lower. According to the publication, the pandemic most likely resulted in an additional 72,700 permanent and long-term restaurant closures in 2020, slightly less than the NRA statistic, but still staggering. These closures represent a 95% increase over the average annual closure rate.

Like local and independent restaurants, restaurant chains have suffered pandemic-related closures, many of which have gone bankrupt (and some have been liquidated).

Here’s a look at five beloved restaurant chains that are going out of business in 2022. Don’t Miss These restaurants are on the verge of bankruptcy, recent data shows.

Route-Maven / Tripadvisor

Howard Johnson’s last restaurant (an outpost in Lake George, NY) closed in June, marking the official end of the Howard Johnson line.

Founded in 1929 and beloved for things like signature ice cream (available in 28 flavors), Howard Johnson hit its peak in the mid-20th century, expanding over several decades to a footprint of more than 1,000 locations.

But facing increased competition from rival chains like McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC, HoJo’s lost its footing in the second half of the century. The brand was acquired by Imperial Group in 1979, then resold (for around half price) to Marriott in 1985. By 2000, fewer than a few dozen Howard Johnsons remained.

nestle toll cafe
ZikG / Shutterstock

Following a drop in foot traffic and a years-long lawsuit with its parent company, Nestlé Café was sold last month by Crest Foods to restaurant operator FAT Brands.

While some locations are still operating, the remaining 85 cafes, located primarily in strip malls and malls, will be converted to Great American Cookies stores, FAT Brands said in a statement.

game works
Jim Lambert/Shutterstock

The chain of entertainment centers folded at the end of 2021, announcing on Christmas Eve the closure of its six remaining locations.

Founded in 1996 as a joint venture between Sega and DreamWorks (and with Steven Spielberg as creative consultant), GameWorks has taken a unique approach to themed meals, providing customers with a fully-equipped video game arcade experience , as well as bowling and billiards.

A solid business model, by all appearances. But DreamWorks pulled out of the business early on, selling its stake in GameWorks in 2001. Two bankruptcies followed, and between 2017 and 2020 the company posted losses of $28.9 million.

By the time the pandemic arrived, with the mandatory shutdowns, GameWorks was already on the verge of extinction.

exterior of ryan's restaurant
Carl F. / Yelp

The buffet chain is one of several brands (along with Furr’s and Tahoe Joe’s) owned by holding company Fresh Acquisitions (formerly known as Buffets Inc.), which filed for bankruptcy last April.

At the time of filing, Fresh Acquisitions had between $10 million and $50 million in liabilities. VitaNova, the management company of Fresh Acquisitions, announced plans to focus recovery efforts on Furr’s and Tahoe Joe’s, leaving the fate of Ryan’s and several other underperforming brands “in court.”

Fresh Acquisitions was then acquired by BBQ Holdings last fall in a bankruptcy auction. Interested primarily in Tahoe Joe’s, BBQ Holdings had, at the time of the auction, no immediate plans to relaunch Ryan’s or any of Fresh Acquisitions’ other buffet brands.

Buffet of yesteryear
George Sheldon/Shutterstock

Like Ryan’s, Old Country Buffet was part of the Fresh Acquisitions portfolio auctioned off at BBQ Holdings last fall. Since BBQ Holdings has no immediate plans to revive any of the buffet concepts, Old Country Buffet, along with Ryan’s, Furr’s and Hometown Buffet, seems to be gone for good.

As catering company points out, the decline of Old Country Buffet and its sister brands predated the pandemic and was rooted in years of mismanagement by parent company Fresh Acquisitions.

While rival buffet chain Golden Corral managed to stay afloat in 2020 and beyond, Fresh Acquisition brands were ill-positioned to weather the pandemic, after “more than a decade of neglect”.

Owen Duff

Owen Duff is a freelance journalist based in Vermont, home of Ben & Jerry’s. Read more

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