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RIP: The Top 5 Franchise Brands that No Longer Exist

Revisit some classic American franchise brands that dwindled away and are now a distant memory.

By Jeff DwyerStaff Writer
10:10AM 04/26/23

There are dozens of recognizable franchise brands throughout the U.S. that continue to thrive, such as McDonald’s, Dunkin’ and Supercuts. But what about the once-beloved franchise brands that have all but disappeared? Today we’re remembering five of the most memorable franchise brands that are no longer with us.

Burger Chef

Topping the list is the classic American fast-food burger chain Burger Chef. The concept, which may not be as recognizable as it once was, was at one point a direct competitor to the biggest American burger franchise ever to exist: McDonald’s.

Burger Chef began operating in 1957 in Indianapolis, Indiana after brothers Frank and Donald Thomas patented a flame broiler and decided to go into business for themselves. Only 15 years later, Burger Chef had grown to more than 1,200 locations, just shy of McDonald’s at the time, which had 1,600 units.

It’s said the franchise’s overeager expansion plan helped contribute to its demise. In 1981, the brand was sold to Hardee’s restaurants, and all its units were either dismantled or converted into other restaurants.

While the brand is long gone, Burger Chef has left behind an unforgettable legacy. Famously, Burger Chef was responsible for being the first American restaurant to introduce several fast-food staples to the industry. The franchise became the first of its kind to bundle a kid’s meal with a toy and dubbed it the “Fun Meal.” It was also the first to offer a combo of a burger, fries and drink.

Howard Johnson’s Restaurants

Most people nowadays know about the Howard Johnson hotel chain, but what some don’t realize is the brand also used to have an associated restaurant. Because many of the hotels were located on the road, the restaurants served as an easy pit stop for traveling families. Believe it or not, throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Howard Johnson’s restaurant franchise was the largest restaurant franchise chain in the country. It boasted more than 1,000 combined company-owned and franchised outlets.

However, the chain was sold to competing hotel brand Marriott in the 1980s. All but one Howard Johnson restaurant was shuttered. That last location held on for another 40 years. Finally, in 2021, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the last Howard Johnson restaurant located in Lake George, New York, closed.

While the Howard Johnson restaurants are closed for good, the hotel chain still has around 300 locations.

White Tower Hamburgers

It’s not far-fetched to say that most people are familiar with the name White Castle, but have you ever heard of White Tower hamburgers? White Tower was a fast-casual hamburger chain founded in 1926 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. From the get-go, it was clear White Tower was a direct imitator of the White Castle brand, which was founded five years earlier in 1921. White Tower served menu items that were similar to those offered by White Castle. It even had a similar design structure and was originally built to appear like a white fortress.

White Castle obviously had an issue with this. In 1929, White Castle sued White Tower for trademark infringement and won. White Tower attempted to appeal the decision but was unsuccessful. The brand was told to restructure and stay away from White Castle competitively. This, however, wasn’t the end of White Tower. The brand continued to grow and was at its peak in the 1950s with around 230 locations across the country. But, in the following three decades, White Tower would undergo a major rebrand, and inevitably, fail to keep up with other burger establishments. By 1979, there were only 80 locations left.

In April 2022, the very last White Tower, located in Toledo, Ohio, permanently shut its doors due to a fire.


If you’ve ever lived in the American West or Southwest, then you likely know the name Souplantation. Souplantation was a chain of all-you-can-eat, buffet-style restaurants that first opened in San Diego, California in 1978. The brand expanded through the southwest, and at one point, even had 23 locations in Florida. At its peak, Souplantation had 97 locations and more than 4,400 employees.

Trouble began for the brand in 2016, when the Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp, which owned the rights to Souplantation, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. At the time, Garden Fresh was nearly $175 million in debt. This was just the beginning of the end for the beloved brand.

In response to COVID-related lockdowns and government-imposed restrictions, in March 2020, Souplantation temporarily closed all 97 of its restaurants. This closure, however, was never lifted. The brand was permanently shuttered and eventually filed for liquidation.

There have been talks to revive the brand. In May 2022, a standalone Souplantation franchise was announced. It’s rumored the location will be built in La Mesa, California, though as of February 2023, there’s been no solid update on a potential opening date.


It would be a disservice not to include the beloved movie rental chain Blockbuster on this list. The nostalgia-inducing entertainment giant opened its first location in Dallas, Texas in 1985. Just two decades later, Blockbuster was the largest movie-rental business in the country. It was doing so well by the year 2000 that it opted out of a $50 million deal to purchase a lesser-known company: Netflix. By 2004, Blockbuster was at its peak with more than 9,000 stores globally..

A few years later, in 2010, the chain would file for bankruptcy. Many attribute this downfall to the seemingly sudden explosion of online streaming platforms and DVD delivery services offered by Netflix and Redbox. By 2011, the franchise was sold to Dish Network. Then, all company-owned stores were closed on January 12, 2014.

While technically the franchise system for Blockbuster no longer exists, there is, however, one Blockbuster franchise location still open. It’s located in Bend, Oregon, and is dubbed “The Last Blockbuster.” The location has become a popular tourist destination for individuals looking to itch a nostalgia scratch. And the location still rents out movies! It stocks around 1,200 titles and has an estimated 4,000 members who regularly rent films. If that isn’t enough, the location was also the subject of a documentary film titled “The Last Blockbuster,” which is now, ironically, streaming on Netflix.


While these are just some of the most notable franchises that were lost to time, this list is only scratching the surface. Over the years, there have been a number of franchises that have closed their doors for good. While they may be gone, they’ll always live on in our memories.