The 15 Biggest Failed Restaurant Chains


The 15 Biggest Failed Restaurant Chains

Sambo's restaurant.
Photo by claudio zaccherini –


Sambo’s iconic name came about by combining the two owners’ names: Sam from Sam Battistone and Bo from Newell F. Bohnett. Simple, yet effective.

It all started in 1957 when the two combined their forces (and finances) in an attempt to take the restaurant industry by storm. Sadly, they did not have the foresight to anticipate the fall of their business. Hundreds of people immediately took offense with the name, correlating it to the politically incorrect children’s book Little Black Sambo. To make matters worse, the restaurant was also decorated with scenes from the book.

Still, the duo must have done something right! With 1,117 locations open across the U.S. during the chain’s peak in the early 1980s, it briefly looked like faithful customers were willing to ignore the insensitive connection.

As the political climate changed and more people were willing to call the owners out for their insensitivity, they changed 618 location names to Season’s Friendly Eating in 1983. Sadly, it was too little too late for Sambo’s. Some locations were purchased by Denny’s while the vast majority simply shut down.

Burger Chef

Nobody could have guessed a chain restaurant capable of pumping out burgers faster than McDonald’s would come about. That all changed in 1958 when Burger Chef started making a whopping 800 burgers per hour- and America was more than ready to gobble them all up!

General Equipment, Burger Chef’s parent company, opened 1,200 outposts by 1972 compared to McDonald’s 1,600.

If you thought McDonald’s pioneered the iconic Happy Meal, think again. It was actually Burger Chef that came up with the idea of a children-oriented meal- small burger fries, drink, dessert, and a small toy. The invention, Fun Meal, came out in 1973. Six years later, McDonald’s copied the idea and rebranded is as what we all know and love today, the Happy Meal.

The owners thought there was no end in sight for their restaurant, so they kept expanding and expanding and expanding. In 1981, the company was sold to Hardee’s and many cite their rampant over expansion as the reason behind their downfall.


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