If you’re a Baby Boomer some of your most cherished memories growing up were getting out of the house for ice cream or hamburger. We take a look at some of our most favorite bankrupt restaurants that are no longer around and remember what made them special.
Dog ‘N Suds – A Beach Town Favorite Around the Great Lakes
This hot dog stand with a butterfly roof found its niche at beach and resort towns all around the Great Lakes in the 1950s and 1960s. Music teachers James Griggs and Don Hamacher opened the first Dog n Suds in 1953 in Champaign, Illinois. Serving hot dogs, burgers and the creamiest root beer around they grew the business. By 1968, there were over 650 restaurants primarily in the Midwest.
Today there still two Dog ‘n Suds drive-ins in Michigan and two in Indiana. They have real carhop service and outside umbrella tables. They are open during the season from April through September.
Before Cracker Barrel there Was Bill Knapp’s
The first Bill Knapp’s restaurant was located in Battle Creek Michigan in 1948. It was an American family restaurant chain known for its made from scratch home-style foods and famous chocolate cake. This chain grew to 60 locations in the Midwest. Its early success was attributed to locating many of the restaurants off major highway exits. This freeway focused placement attracted travelers offered a convenient meeting place for friends and families.
Its downfall started in 1998 because new owners totally revamped the menu and redecorated the restaurant interiors. This alienated its older yet loyal clientele. The owners tried to restore the original décor and menus in 2001 however it was too late. The last of the bankrupt restaurants closed in 2002.
The Knapp’s famous chocolate cake and other bakery products were sold to Awrey Bakeries and are still available in many stores in the Midwest.
Burger Chef – The Original Charbroiled Burger
Founded in Indianapolis in 1954, specializing in a charbroiled burger and other fast foods. By 1972, it has grown to 1,050 locations. It was second only to McDonalds by size. The burger outlet marketed its flagship burgers under the names Big Shef and Super Shef hamburgers. General Foods brought the nameplate and divested it to other franchises. A majority of the restaurants are now Hardees. The chain ceased operation in 1996.
Burger Chefs’ marketing coup came with the use of two characters in advertising: Burger Chef and Jeff. The chain also was the first to offer a meal package specifically geared to children. A concept that McDonald’s later used with the Happy Meal. In 2014, the iconic drama “Mad Men” featured a Burger Chef restaurant as the main characters ate under the fluorescent glow within a triangle pitched restaurant.
Burger Chef TV Commercial
As bankrupt restaurants go Burger Chef was really transformed in to Hardees. The patented process lives on with the charbroiled burgers that many folks prefer.
Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour – Sweet, Crazy, Loud, Fun
While not established in the Midwest, this loud, gaudy, ice cream parlor found a home in the Great Lakes region. It was the place for kids’ birthday parties. With servers in straw skimmer hats, this was not the place to take anyone who cannot stand being bombarded with stimulation. It was a full-service restaurant but it had a special flair for its desserts. If someone wanted to really splurge, they ordered the “Zoo”. This was a huge concoction of 30 scoops of chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla ice cream, with strawberry, chocolate, and marshmallow topping. Topped with bananas, sprinkles, whipped cream, a cherry, and a menagerie of plastic animals. This huge sundae was carried by two striped vest servers and followed by a banging drum, sirens, fire engine bells, and banjo playing.
If you were into solo binging then you ordered the Pig Trough. This was a huge banana split served in a dish resembling farmers feeding tough They even gave award ribbons entitled “I made a pig of myself at Farrell’s”. The experience was rounded out with a sugar-high trip through the penny candy aisle and a chance of snagging a huge giant lollipop or jawbreaker on the way out the door. The last Farrell’s closed in Michigan in the 1980s but there are still several restaurants in California. There is even a Facebook Page devoted to bringing back the red-themed dairy barns back to the Midwest.
Farrell’s Commercial from 1980
Champ’s – A Detroit Suburb Cruising Stop
This was a local pair of hamburger stands west of Pontiac in Waterford Michigan. One was located on M-59 and the other on Dixie Highway and Andersonville Roads. The stand on Dixie Highway was next to a tributary of the Clinton River. It was common for kids to take their small boats right up the store and order a bag of burgers.
Champs is continuously mentioned in social media as one of the top memories of the places to go in the 1960s and ’70s. The original store is still standing today as a restaurant.
Sveden House Smorgasbord
This buffet-style restaurant started in Duluth Minnesota and had locations all over Michigan in Grand Rapids, Lansing, Metro Detroit, Saginaw, and Bay City. Known for its chicken, Swedish meatballs, fried shrimp, bread pudding and an interesting rice dish with marshmallows and cherries.
The smorgasbord had plenty of make from scratch food and cooked by young folks, many in their first jobs. If you were a cashier or “coffee girl”, you wore a uniform that looked almost like a sexy Swedish maid. Defiantly sexist by today’s standards but some of the young women wore for a Halloween costume.
The décor took on a Scandinavian theme with flags of various provinces adorning the walls. It wanted to take you to the land of the midnight sun.
Founders Floyd Robinson and Keith Maxwell developed and owned all of the Sveden Houses in the ’60s and ’70s. They owned restaurants in Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. In the late 80’s and ’90s, Maxwell left the business and Robinson and his two sons (David and Randy) took over and opened many more Sveden Houses. The last of the bankrupt restaurants closed in 2006.
Texan Family Restaurant
The gun touting baby-faced cowboy with a 10-gallon western-style hat embellished all the signs in front of this 24-hour restaurant in the Saginaw Bay Region. They offered breakfast, steak sandwiches, burgers, Mexican fare, and chili. A crowd favorite was their banana splits and breakfast buffets.
The small chain ran for 45 years until the last of the bankrupt restaurants closed in July 2015
Stuckey’s – A National Brand Rises and Falls with Pecan Roll Candy
If you traveled the Interstate highways in the 1960s then chances are you recognize the trademark roof of Stuckey’s. Founded in Eastman Georgia in the 1930s, the husband and wife team of Ethel and W.S. Stuckey, Sr started has a simple stand selling their famous Stuckey’s Pecan Log Roll. After World War II the nation was on the road and the Stuckey’s grew their concept. By the 1970s there were over 350 locations across the US. These stores were landmarks and offered a traveler a gas fill-up, local souvenirs, cold drinks, hot snacks, stripped blankets, and pecan candy all under the high pitched teal blue roof.
The demise of Stucky’s is a familiar story of bankrupt restaurants. After being bought and sold by a large firm the management lost focus of what made the roadside oasis a success, to begin with. Without the founder’s vision and energy, the venerable brand was doomed. By the 1970s the chain dwindled down to a handful of stores and its owner IC Industries was selling the valued locations along the Interstate for their real-estate value.
The Stucky family bought back the famous brand in 1985 and began nursing it back to health. Now there are over 115 shops spanning from Texas to Pennsylvania. However, purists may not recognize many of the Stucky’s locations of today. The Stuckey’s Express Stop is growing by being tucked into existing 7-11’s, Dairy Queen’s or gas stations. Hopefully, this store-within-a-store concept will keep at least a part of the Stuckey’s experience alive for the next generation.
Howard Johnson’s America’s 1st Major Restaurant Chain
Howard Johnson’s iconic orange roof on their motor lodges and restaurants made them easy to locate from the highway and was a beacon of the HoJo brand to travelers. Founded in 1925 as a pharmacy soda fountain by Howard Deering Johnson, he grew it to one of the largest restaurant chains in the U.S. By the 1970s, there were more than 1,000 locations bearing the Howard Johnson brand.
While the company started and grew during the Depression, World War II just about killed the fledgling company. In 1939, there were 107 Howard Johnson’s restaurants along America’s East Coast highways. At wars end, only 12 restaurants remained. After the war, turnpike and highway building was raging throughout the US. Johnson secured a deal to be the sole restaurant provider at service station turnouts throughout the early turnpike systems. This resurgence lasted until the 1970s with more than 1,000 restaurants and 500 motor lodges in the U.S. and Canada
Howard Johnson offered comfort food and 28 flavors of ice cream. The chain also popularized fried clam strips, which become a menu mainstay throughout the country. The restaurant was also known for its Macaroni and Cheese, Chicken Croquettes and Corn and Blueberry Toasties.
The motor lodges remain and are owned and operated by Wyndham Hotels. In 1979, the restaurant franchises formed their own network but began closing. Today the final restaurant left is closed and for sale in Lake George, New York, a summer tourist spot in the Adirondacks. Therefore, another icon of the economic boom in the United States during the last century goes into the history books and part of the list of bankrupt restaurants with its orange-tiled roof, and the weather vane outlined with the Simple Simon and Pie Man logo.
The images below contain affiliate links. See our affiliate disclosure for more details.