During this decade of decadence, some of these restaurants took center stage, giving diners a taste of convenience, affordability, and an unforgettable dining experience. They became social hubs, landmarks — and for many, almost a second home. (“Where everybody knows your name…“)
Fast forward to today. While we’d expect to see new logos and updated menus, the curiosity remains: How many of the most popular 80s restaurants still exist today?
We found out the fate of some of the most iconic 1980s dining spots — from big franchises to smaller chains — and charted their journey from their heyday to the present. Now you can reminisce with old photos of these old faves… and see a few you’d probably forgotten.
Here are restaurants from the 80s that no longer exist– as well as some still thriving today!
1980s restaurants: Applebee’s
Applebee’s, founded in 1980 in Atlanta, Georgia (and originally called “TJ Applebee’s Rx for Edibles & Elixirs”) quickly became a staple in the American casual dining scene.
Known for its varied menu — meaning that it includes everything from burgers to riblets — along with a considerable selection of drinks, Applebee’s has built its brand on affordability and a neighborhood-friendly atmosphere.
The restaurant chain gained widespread popularity for its “Eatin’ Good in the Neighborhood” slogan and became a go-to spot for families and friends. Despite fluctuations in the restaurant industry and changes in dining trends, Applebee’s continues to adapt its menu and offerings, solidifying its presence with more than 1,700 locations across the US and other countries.
Stuart Anderson’s Black Angus
Stuart Anderson’s Black Angus Steakhouse, a restaurant chain that made its mark with high-quality steaks served in a relaxed atmosphere, made its debut in the 1960s. By the time the 80s rolled around, Black Angus had established itself as a favorite destination for steak lovers across the United States.
The restaurant’s menu extended beyond steaks to include a variety of hearty dishes like seafood, chicken and ribs. The rustic decor and welcoming ambiance added to the charm of the dining experience at Black Angus, setting it apart in the crowded steakhouse market.
Through the 80s and 90s, Black Angus Steakhouse expanded its footprint across the Western and Southwestern United States, becoming a staple of the dining scene in many communities. However, like many restaurant chains, Black Angus faced its share of challenges.
The early 2000s brought financial difficulties for the company, culminating in a bankruptcy filing in 2004. Despite these hurdles, the company managed to restructure and come back stronger. It continued to build on its reputation for quality steaks and friendly service, while adapting to changing consumer preferences and market conditions.
Black Angus Steakhouse is still in operation, with over 30 locations in Arizona, California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Washington. You can find out more about their modern-day restaurants at BlackAngus.com.
80s restaurants: Casa Gallardo in 1980
Casa Gallardo, a Mexican restaurant chain, was once an exotic hotspot. This 80s restaurant, founded by Joseph and Sharon Gallardo in St Louis in 1975, brought the authentic flavors of Mexican cuisine to the American Midwest. With their distinctively flavorful dishes and lively atmosphere, Casa Gallardo quickly became a destination.
In terms of its scale, Casa Gallardo expanded quite rapidly. By the mid-1980s, the chain had grown significantly, boasting over 20 locations throughout the Midwest. The company’s growth continued into the early 90s, reaching its peak with nearly 50 restaurants in operation.
Is Casa Gallardo still in business? Unfortunately, the chain’s success story began to change in the 1990s. After facing increasing competition, sales started to decline, leading to many locations being converted into other Mexican restaurants, or shut down completely.
Casa Maria restaurant (1982)
Casa Maria — with a spectacularly unoriginal name (it means “Maria’s House”) — was a short-lived Mexican food restaurant chain owned by the Marriott company.
The restaurants were part of the deal when they bought Host International in 1982. In 1984, Marriott decided that Casa Maria “didn’t fit into its long-term restaurant-business strategy,” and all 24 locations were sold to El Torito.
Chi-Chi’s Mexican food restaurants
In the 80s, Mexican food still seemed somewhat exotic. In fact, back then, the owners of the Chi-Chi’s restaurant chain said that they “massaged” the menu to make it appeal more to the American palate, because people assumed the food would be hot and spicy.
So when did Chi-Chi’s close — and why? Well, the chain faced several challenges over the years, including a significant hepatitis A outbreak in 2003 in Pennsylvania, which killed four people, and contributed to its declining reputation.
The majority of Chi-Chi’s restaurants in the United States had closed by the end of 2004, due to declining sales, negative publicity from the hepatitis A incident, and increasing debt. However, the Chi-Chi’s brand name did live on in various forms, including through packaged food products sold in grocery stores, and through some international locations.
As of 2023, there’s only one of these restaurants left… and it’s in Austria. Really.
Vintage 80s Carl’s Jr meal (1982)
Okay, so it’s no mystery that Carl’s Jr. is still around (pretty much the same thing is known as Hardee’s on the east side of the country), so we include this one to show their 1980s $1.99 meal deal: Carl’s Famous Star hamburger, regular fries, and a 20-ounce soda.
1980s restaurant chain Charley Brown’s (1983)
Charley Brown’s, a popular 80s restaurant, was known for its easy-going atmosphere and hearty American fare. Founded in California, the restaurant made a name for itself as a comfortable place to enjoy a well-cooked meal, often featuring steak and seafood, in the company of friends and family.
At its peak, Charley Brown’s operated numerous locations throughout the United States. The restaurants were recognized for their comfortable seating, warm wood decor, and an all-you-can-eat salad bar — a feature that became a hit with customers.
The restaurant industry is known for its ebb and flow, and Charley Brown’s was no exception. Over time, the chain faced increased competition and changing dining trends.
The company was sold several times and, after various attempts to revive the brand, many old Charley Brown’s locations were eventually closed or converted into other restaurant concepts.
Vintage Chuck E Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre
As the chain expanded in the 80s, it became a nostalgic touchstone for many. Adapting to changing entertainment tastes, the brand updated its locations, shifting from animatronics to live shows.
Despite facing financial hiccups, including a 2020 bankruptcy, Chuck E. Cheese remains resilient, with over 500 locations and a significant place in pop culture. See if there’s one near you by visiting chuckecheese.com.
Dave and Buster’s (1989)
Dave & Buster’s, a distinctive combination of a restaurant and an arcade, began its journey in the early 1980s.
The unique concept was born when its founders, Dave Corriveau and Buster Corley, decided to combine their respective businesses — a bar/restaurant and an entertainment complex — into one venue.
The idea quickly caught on, and Dave & Buster’s became a favorite destination for those looking for food, fun, and games all under one roof. Nowadays offering a wide range of entertainment options, from classic arcade games to virtual reality experiences, alongside a full-service restaurant and bar, Dave & Buster’s created a niche for itself in the entertainment and dining sector.
Throughout the 80s and 90s, Dave & Buster’s expanded across the United States, offering an experience that was unique in a sea of traditional restaurant chains. However, like any business, Dave & Buster’s faced its share of challenges, particularly in the wake of changing entertainment trends and the increasing popularity of home gaming systems.
Despite these hurdles, Dave & Buster’s managed to evolve with the times, introducing new games and experiences to keep customers engaged. Today there are over 150 locations in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico.
Denny’s restaurants back in the eighties
As a drive around almost anywhere in America could tell you, Denny’s is alive and well today! As of 2023, the chain boasts 1,646 locations across the US (and another 1,591 scattered around the rest of the globe). Many locations don’t even look that much different from the way they did in the 80s, as you can see just below.
80s buffet restaurants: Duff’s Smorgasbord (1981)
Duff’s Famous Smorgasbord, known simply as Duff’s to its regulars, started serving buffet-style dining in the 1960s.
With its roots in Georgia, the chain was quick to spread throughout the Southeast United States. By the 1980s, Duff’s had established a firm place in the hearts of many diners who appreciated the variety and affordability that the buffet model offered.
Duff’s buffet featured a wide array of dishes, including fried chicken, ham, roast beef, salads, and desserts, ensuring there was something to please every palate. The appeal lay not only in the food, but also in the convenience and the opportunity to sample many dishes in one meal.
So what happened? Well, by the 1990s, the whole restaurant industry’s buffet model started facing challenges. Changing dining habits, concerns about food safety, and rising food costs contributed to a decline in the popularity of buffet-style eateries. These factors, coupled with increased competition in the casual dining sector, resulted in a steady decline for Duff’s.
While Duff’s Famous Smorgasbord is no longer in operation, the name still evokes a sense of nostalgia among those who remember its abundant (“all you care to eat”) food offerings.
Having been founded in Massachusetts back in 1950, Dunkin’ Donuts offered their tasty treats all through the 80s… and beyond. A big menu favorite was their version of donut holes, which they called Munchkins.
They’re called just Dunkin’ now, and the quick-service coffee and donut stop seems to be more popular than ever.
1980s Friendly restaurants
Friendly’s, originally known as Friendly (without the apostrophe “s”), was a restaurant chain on the East Coast of the United States, best known for its ice cream (including the legendary Fribble milkshake) and diner-style meals.
Friendly back in the eighties
Here are photos of the old Friendly Ice Cream Corp headquarters in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, plus a selection of foods from the vintage Friendly restaurant menu
While the chain thrived in the seventies and eighties, in the new millennium, they ended up filing for bankruptcy twice (in 2011 and 2020), and sold off their assets after the second time around.
From a peak of more than 500 restaurant locations, as of 2023, there are just about 30 left — all in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey.
The In-N-Out burger restaurant chain from California (1985)
In-N-Out Burger, a name synonymous with fresh, made-to-order burgers, began its journey in Baldwin Park, California, in 1948.
Known for its simple menu of burgers, fries, and milkshakes, the chain soon became a hit for its focus on quality ingredients and exceptional customer service.
During the 1980s, In-N-Out Burger saw a period of steady growth, largely within California. Despite the rising popularity of fast-food chains offering a wider variety of menu options, In-N-Out Burger held firm to its limited menu, focusing on doing a few things exceptionally well.
The success of In-N-Out can also be attributed to the company’s commitment to quality — using only fresh ingredients, and with every burger made to order. That dedication, combined with the chain’s distinctively Californian vibe, helped create a super loyal following.
From the 18 locations it had at the start of the 80s, In-N-Out Burger has experienced significant growth. As of 2023, there are more than 350 In-N-Out Burger locations, the chain having spread to several states outside California — such as Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Texas, and Oregon. A significant expansion to the Eastern US is on the horizon! Find out more about where to find ’em here.
Kona Kai restaurant in Philadelphia (1981)
Kona Kai, with its tiki torches and Polynesian flair, introduced many Americans to a unique dining experience.
Founded in the 1960s as part of the Sheraton hotel chain, Kona Kai blended exotic food, tropical cocktails, and a distinctive island-kitsch atmosphere. It was more than just a restaurant –it was an exotic escape, a mini vacation from the ordinary — right there in the middle of mainland America.
Throughout the 70s and 80s, Kona Kai was at the forefront of the Polynesian dining trend. With its Hawaiian-inspired menu, elaborate tiki decor, and exotic cocktail offerings, it captured the imagination of a generation and was the go-to spot for special occasions.
Alas, by the late 80s, the allure of Polynesian-themed dining (at least outside Hawaii) started to wane. Tastes were changing, and the tiki trend began to fade. Kona Kai restaurants began to close, and by the early 2000s, they had all but disappeared.
While today there are no Kona Kai restaurants in operation, the memories of the exotic and fun-filled nights at Kona Kai still linger in the minds of those who dined there. Its influence can also be seen in the resurgence of tiki bars and Polynesian-themed restaurants that continue to keep the tropical dining experience alive.
Old Olive Garden restaurants and vintage logo (1989)
Olive Garden, the Italian chain known for its unlimited breadsticks, hearty pasta dishes, and family-friendly atmosphere, began its journey in 1982.
Originally a unit of General Mills, the chain quickly gained popularity and began a period of rapid expansion throughout the 80s. It became a go-to spot for families and large groups looking for ample portions of Italian-American cuisine at reasonable prices.
By the end of the 1980s, Olive Garden had successfully established more than 145 restaurants across the United States. This growth was spurred by a focus on the middle market and their efforts to provide a comfortable, home-like setting where families could enjoy a meal together.
However, the road wasn’t always smooth for Olive Garden. The chain faced criticism for its Americanized versions of Italian cuisine, and in the early 1990s, it went through a period of struggle where it faced declining sales.
Despite the challenges, Olive Garden managed to revamp its image and menu, responding to customer feedback with more authentic dishes and a renewed emphasis on quality ingredients. This ability to adapt and evolve helped the chain regain its footing and continue its growth trajectory.
As of 2023, there are an astonishing 900+ Olive Garden restaurants worldwide, making it one of the most recognizable chain restaurants globally — not to mention a dominant brand in the casual dining sector.
Vintage 1980s Round Table Pizza
Round Table Pizza was founded in Menlo Park, California, in 1959. The restaurant’s motif was taken from the old legends of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table.
For example, The “King Arthur’s Supreme,” topped with a variety of meats and vegetables, was a fan favorite. The veggie option was the delicious and thematically-named Guinevere’s Garden Delight. Want a plain pizza? You could ask for the magical “Merlin’s Cheese Mixture.”
Throughout the 80s, Round Table Pizza saw steady growth and became a staple in many suburbs, and wasn’t hot just because of its food and salad bars, but also for its role as a gathering place. Many locations were designed to accommodate large groups, and often hosted local sports teams, community meetings, and family gatherings.
While some pizza chains focused on delivering the cheapest pizza as quickly as possible, one unique aspect of Round Table Pizza was its commitment to quality ingredients (the fact that they used “real” cheese was regularly mentioned in their TV commercials).
Despite facing a bankruptcy filing in 2011, Round Table Pizza bounced back and continued its mission. Today, there were more than 450 Round Table Pizza locations, primarily on the West Coast of the United States, but also in select locations across the country — and even overseas. Visit their site here to find out if they’re in your state.
Season’s Restaurant (1983)
With the tagline “Honest to goodness good food,” the St Louis-area Season’s chain staked their claim on being one of the few restaurants to use fewer processed foods in favor of fresh ingredients.
Despite the fact that they had enough cash to produce the kind of branding and advertising the big players used, these restaurants only seemed to have been around during 1982-1983.
Perhaps it was never to be — after all, they started out by taking over a few old Sambo’s restaurant locations. And when the new company’s short season ended, some locations were apparently turned into Denny’s.
Swensen’s ice cream parlor restaurant (1982)
Swensen’s– which they called “America’s favorite old-fashioned ice cream parlor” back in the 80s — was actually started in San Francisco in 1948 by Earle Swensen.
The brand became known for their wide range of ice cream flavors (at one point, there were more than 300). During its peak popularity, the chain expanded both nationally and internationally.
As with many chains, the number of Swensen’s locations in the US declined over time due to the usual culprits: market competition, changing consumer tastes, and economic challenges. By the late 1980s and 1990s, many Swensen’s parlors in the states had closed or were rebranded.
While Swensen’s ice cream parlors aren’t in America anymore, the brand is still alive and thriving in other parts of the world — particularly in Asia. You can stock up on classics like Swiss Orange Chip in countries including Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand.
The VIP’s restaurant chain offered a similar experience to Denny’s — sort of a coffee shop/diner deal — and billed themselves as “the real family restaurant.” They started up in Oregon back in 1968, and had a 21-year run before the last one closed in 1989.
Not too surprisingly, Denny’s Inc. bought a couple dozen VIP’s locations in the 80s, and ran them until they could convert them into Denny’s. Below, you can see one that was just about to undergo a transformation.
Winchell’s Donut House
Starting back in 1948, Winchell’s Donuts was owned by the Denny’s company during the 80s. They had 836 locations by the end of 1982, and said back then that they planned to update 60 older restaurants — meaning new signs and booths, brighter lighting, music, and illuminated menu boards.
They also spent $5 million on advertising Winchell’s Donut House in 1982 alone, trying to market their quality, prices, and new products.
1980s restaurant: York Steak House restaurant (1980)
York Steakhouse was renowned in the 1970s and 80s for its high-quality meats and comforting atmosphere. It was a regular treat in the rotation for many families back in the 1980s.
Is it still around? Yes, but… the York Steakhouse of today is not as expansive as it once was. At its peak, there were as many as 180 stores, and now there’s just one family-owned location still operating in Columbus, Ohio.
A few lesser-known 80s restaurants
Most of the eateries listed above were part of either regional or national chains, but there were plenty of restaurants that were independent, and/or exclusively found at a hotel.
For instance, The View Restaurant in Washington DC pictured below had its dining room atop the Key Bridge Marriott hotel, and was operated by the Marriott company. (It had originally been the Chaparrall Restaurant, was renamed The View in 1980, and then called JW’s Steakhouse from the mid-90s until it closed in 2006.)
Alphy’s was a small coffee shop chain in California that was owned by Alpha-Beta grocery stores. They were around from the early 60s until the early 80s, when many old Alphy’s restaurants were bought out by Denny’s.
BK’s Greenhouse: An experimental 80s restaurant that was located in Kroger stores (1982)
As you can see from the above Alphy’s chain, a couple supermarkets experimented with the concept of running a grocery store-adjacent restaurant… apparently without much success.
The old Horatio’s restaurant at the Coconut Grove Hotel in Miami, Florida (1980)