It's a sad reality in food — restaurants fail. BinWise reports that the National Restaurant Association attaches a failure rate as high as 80% to start-up bars and eateries within their first five years of opening. But by the time a restaurant reaches chain status, we tend to think of it as officially having "made it." Failure is impossible once a restaurant becomes a culinary industry giant ... right?
Unfortunately, even the chain restaurants many of us have enjoyed dining at for years aren't untouchable. Things like economic downturns, lawsuits, poor location placements, changing industry trends, and (as all of us who lived through the year 2020 understand firsthand) health pandemics such as COVID-19 can put even the most successful industry players at risk. As the new year approaches, we may have begun to brace ourselves for the loss of some of our dining favorites -- restaurants that just haven't been able to bounce back after unfortunate turns of events. Here are some beloved chain restaurants we sadly might lose in 2024.
Krystal, the fast-food burger chain known for its beefy creations, melty breakfast sandwiches, loaded hot dogs, tater tots, and fries is a franchise that you would like to see succeed. Founded in Tennessee during the Great Depression, Krystal has been serving up deliciousness since the early 1930s -- but its performance over the last few years is leading many to wonder how much longer burgers will continue to sizzle on its grills.
According to Restaurant Business, though Krystal is putting in all its best efforts to continue along the train of growth, it seems to be doing nothing but slipping. During the year of worsts -- 2020 -- the company filed for bankruptcy, following the trend of many restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortress Investment Group became the flailing chain's new owners, developing a new plan for its future which involved selling restaurants in an attempt to stimulate growth and, ultimately, profits. However, the process of re-franchising in this way can often be a slow one -- and given Krystal's drastic demise over the past 10 years, we'd be surprised if it has the time to wait on a salvation that is far from guaranteed. Regardless, we'll keep our fingers crossed that 2024 doesn't become the year that Krystal is taken out for good.
Pie Five Pizza
Sometimes the best intentions don't yield the best results, and this is especially true in the restaurant business. When it comes to Pie Five -- a quick-stop chain offering personal make-it-your-way pizzas under a business model similar to Subway or MOD Pizza -- we have a perfect example of a great idea that just didn't quite pan out. While Pie Five was developed mainly for college campuses, shopping malls, and other areas where people might be looking for a saucy melted cheese-and-crust meal at a quick speed, the concept hasn't taken off like the company believed it would. According to Restaurant Business, around two-thirds (or about 66%) of the original Pie Five Pizza locations have shuttered their doors for good.
Fortunately for Rave Restaurant Group, the owner of Pie Five, all of its eggs are not in one basket: the company developed a second original pizza chain, as well. This one is known as Pizza Inn -- and it has vastly outperformed its brother restaurant. While business may be stagnant for poor Pie Five, the sit-down buffet-style Pizza Inn has done nothing but prosper. Rave reportedly plans to slowly integrate its more successful business into its failing one by starting to sell pizza branded as "Pizza Inn" on the Pie Five shelves. Little by little, it appears, Rave Restaurant Group will phase out Pie Five until it is nothing more than a sauce-filled memory.
Pancho's Mexican Buffet
Pancho's Mexican Buffet is one of those chains that peaked in the '90s and early 2000's -- the age when television commercials were at their finest. Throngs of nostalgic consumers on the internet reminisce about the once-popular chain's jingle, which used to play on their television sets so often that it has remained permanently embedded in their memories.
"Tore that place up as a kid," said a user on Reddit. "Flautas, rice and beans. Hitting up the desert bar and putting a mountain of soft serve on [...] churros and topping it off with hot fudge." However, Pancho's has sadly and slowly dwindled since its golden age ... from around 140 locations at its prime, all the way down to only two in the sole state of Texas. Though it's hard to determine exactly what has led to its demise over the years, the trouble seems to have begun when the company came under new ownership in 2001. With its two locations left serving all-you-can-eat tacos and sopapillas, even they appear to have been struggling for a while. Two years ago, saddened Texas customers flocked to the doors of the final Pancho's locations for what they believed would be their final meal behind its doors after a rumored permanent shutdown was reported by local news. Strangely, the closure never came to fruition ... however, it doesn't appear it would take much for it to occur in 2024.
The Applebee's franchise, which has been around since 1980, is one that consumers seem to have mixed opinions on regarding its products' taste and quality. But whether or not you love or hate the neighborhood grill and bar, you can't deny that it was once a top contender in the sit-down chain restaurant scene. However, these days, the long-standing company is struggling -- and the trouble seems to have ramped up with the arrival of COVID-19.
Despite its high level of permanent store closures at the end of 2020, the year the pandemic wreaked havoc on the hospitality industry, Applebee's didn't give up. The franchise determinedly set its sights on getting back on the upward trend once again. 2023 was supposed to be the year of an official bounce back -- according to Restaurant Business, the company hoped to open more locations than it would ultimately have to close. But despite the franchise's best efforts to make itself relevant again, the end of 2023 has brought with it not growth or even the same number of existing Applebee's locations ... but more closures of underperforming ones. Will 2024 continue to usher in the end of the Applebee's era? Only time will tell.
Buffalo Wild Wings
Buffalo Wild Wings, with its sports bar environment, extensive beer offerings, and chicken-centered menu, has been serving food up to its game-watching guests since 1982. However, over 40 years since it got its start, a grim shadow has been cast over the future of the chain. Trouble seems to be brewing for the restaurant franchise which faithfully cooks up large amounts of wings in its kitchens, or does it?
Recently, Buffalo Wild Wings were criticized for serving up wings to its customers that -- wait for it -- weren't actually wings. The company, when taken to court over the issue, admitted to using chicken breast prepared and fried in such a way to look like boneless chicken wings, instead of actually using the winged part of the bird. If this weren't nefarious enough, the franchise took an additional hit this year when it pulled all its remaining locations out of Canada on the basis of underperformance and poor sales. These closures seem to have occurred one by one over a long period of time -- leading us to wonder what might be in the works for the chain's stateside locations in 2024. "They seem to suck all over now, nationwide," said a disappointed user on Reddit. If the circulating negative consumer feelings and dishonest actions taken by the chain this year are any indication of what's to come, we estimate it may not be anything good.
Fuddruckers got its start in Texas in 1980, with a promise which set it apart from the rest -- the buns housing its scrumptious burgers would be baked daily from scratch on-site. Though there's a whole lot to love about this idea, it doesn't appear the chain, which still adheres to its original fresh-bun concept today, will be saved by its tasty, home-spun bread-and-burgers or yummy shakes.
Fuddruckers is hardly the grand-scale chain that it used to be, with there being a mere 60 locations left in the United States. Multiple articles and videos on various platforms came out this year assessing the seemingly doomed chain, digging deeper into what appears to be the slow death of a once-epic burger franchise. While the story is a long one with multiple twists and turns, it appears the consistent dip in revenue and popularity that Fuddruckers has experienced in recent years can be attributed to its acquisition by Luby's in 2010. The franchise's new owners made some less than popular changes to the running of its new restaurant chain -- changes that drove earnings down rather than up. In 2020, Luby's itself ended up liquidated, and Black Titan Industries took over ownership of the flailing Fuddruckers locations. While this most recent owner has been admirably trying to rekindle the struggling chain's popularity ever since, we fear poor Fuddruckers might be too far gone to revive. Will it bake its final bun in 2024? We certainly hope not.
White Castle is the world's original burger chain. The company got the ball rolling for all fast food beef-and-fry restaurants to come with its first location in 1921 -- but is it possible that White Castle's long reign might be coming to an end? Some recent closings and financial troubles might just usurp the very first burger joint's throne.
Across the nation, prominent White Castle locations appear to be closing. While a few shutdowns are hardly reason to panic, an enormous lawsuit tacked on top of them most certainly is. This year, White Castle was sued by one of its managers -- and the fallout could cost the company a whopping $17 billion in total. In February 2023, a White Castle in the state of Illinois was found to have breached its state's laws on using digital identification systems. The employees had been using a technology in-store for 10 years that did not ask whether or not their personal information -- in this case, their fingerprints, which were used to unlock their place-of-work's digital systems -- was okay to be assessed via a third-party verification platform. This is an illegal action in Illinois, and the Supreme Court ruled that the franchise be required to pay for every single instance in which it occurred. Sadly, a payout of this magnitude can wreak havoc on a food franchise. We wait with bated breath to see if the king returns to its castle, or ends up vanquished, in 2024.
Boston Market, originally known as "Boston Chicken," has been on the decline for years ... and things didn't improve much in 2023. There are about 310 locations in the U.S., and while you may think that doesn't sound too detrimental at first glance, if you take a look at the bigger picture, some major concern begins to creep in for the chain attributed with starting the rotisserie chicken trend.
At its peak, Boston Market sported 1,200 locations. So, what has led to its severe downsize? Well, at the heart of the problem is a fair bit of scandal. The chain has been called out often for alleged mistreatment by its employees and recently came under fire. In August of this year, 27 different Boston Market locations were ordered closed by the Labor Department of New Jersey when it came out that the franchise owed its workers a whopping $600,000 in outstanding wages (via Business Insider). They were required to pay the waiting employees, obviously -- but also to pay a fine of $2.6 million for the transgression, likely only adding to the company's standing financial troubles. We've all heard the phrase "You reap what you sow," and in the case of Boston Market, some major changes will need to be made in its policies toward the people who make its restaurants go round if it hopes to get through 2024.
Old Country Buffet
There's nothing quite like filing for bankruptcy to signal the beginning of the end for a restaurant chain -- and unfortunately, this rings true for Old Country Buffet. The formerly popular all-you-can-eat chain restaurant once had more than 600 locations to its name. But in 2023, this number is at a mere 13 in total -- many or all of which appear to still be standing, but not actually operating. What could be to blame for the unfortunate dwindling of the buffet that offered up warm comfort food for 40 years?
Multiple filings of bankruptcy is what. Starting with its first filing in 2008, the chain went on to file in 2012 and 2016, as well -- one of which was primarily brought on by a salmonella lawsuit that lost the franchise millions when it was already in financial turmoil. By the time it filed for its fourth bankruptcy after the pandemic in 2021, its parent company -- BBQ Holdings -- had all but thrown in the towel already, making the decision to completely stop trying with its newly acquired buffet chain. Since poor Old Country Buffet is basically dead already, let's hope it officially gets put out of its misery in 2024 by shutting down its social media pages, at the very least.
Furr's Fresh Buffet
Furr's, opened in 1947, was a cafeteria-style chain hit incredibly hard during the pandemic. Since no one during COVID-19 was sticking their hands in communal food troughs, the franchise closed all of its locations following the height of the virus ... and to the dismay of loyal customers, never opened back up. "I doubt any of them are coming back," said a consumer on the company's Facebook page. "Places like Golden Corral have been open for months, yet Furr's is completely shut down. At this point any places that haven't reopened more than likely never will."
It rang true for poor Furr's; all of its locations still sit unused or have been demolished by now. But a recent, unexpected glimmer of hope has been ignited in consumer's hearts in Lubbock, Texas. Rumors of a potential mini Furr's resurrection was announced via Lonestar 99.5. While the town's abandoned Furr's building was torn down in 2022, one local restaurant known as The Escondido Grill (who was in cohorts with the Lubbock Furr's before its closing) is assembling the missed chain's most popular recipes for a planned event highlighting its lost tastes. Few details have been released on exactly what this Furr's-honoring celebration will entail, but it will no doubt be full of nostalgia. However, we wonder if this brief -- and perhaps almost torturous -- resurrection will only prolong the passing of Furr's era, making its leaving even harder for folks to accept.
Piccadilly Restaurants first opened in 1932 as a single buffet-style cafeteria. It didn't begin its expansion until 1944 when a new and ambitious owner swooped in, eventually turning the once-lone restaurant into a popular chain that spread across the South. Following the overwhelmingly popular all-you-can-eat culinary trend at the time, Piccadilly enjoyed success as a beloved family restaurant that faithfully fed throngs of hard-working American families.
However, as it stands in 2023, things are not looking good for Piccadilly Restaurants. The chain continues to mysteriously close prominent locations left and right. In Jacksonville, Florida, for example, the recent shutdown of a location that had been planted and serving for 50 years made headlines. This is hardly the first mysterious closing the company has dropped on consumers without warning or explanation, with similar occurrences taking place in the bustling cities of Alexandria and Gonzales, Louisiana -- both of which also took place this year. Since the company has remained tight-lipped as to the reasons why it appears to be downsizing, we can only speculate. Could an antiquated business model centered around the less-than-popular concept of buffet dining be at the heart of the problem? We can't say for certain, but we will be watching and waiting to see what happens in the coming year.
Steak 'N Shake
Though it seems an impossible reality that the company that makes famed chef Joshua Weissman's favorite fast food burger may be destined for doom, the evidence appears to be speaking for itself. The Steak n' Shake footprint has been slowly and quietly diminishing for a while -- right under our sizzling burger-smelling noses. In 2018, QSR Magazine reported the chain had 626 locations under its belt. Four years later, in 2022, that number had been reduced to just over 500. Now, at the end of 2023, there are a total of 493 Steak n' Shake restaurants across the United States.
What makes the company's plight more confounding is that according to a report by Restaurant Business, the franchise's overall sales supposedly improved throughout 2023. However, none of this is evidenced by its growth or lack thereof: despite "good" sales, it continues to close locations. While this pattern is a strange one, to say the least, restaurants being shut down one by one is never a good sign. We're keeping our fingers crossed that 2024 doesn't drag Steak n' Shake under completely because, after all, its Steakburgers are pretty amazing. If you happen to drive by one of its existing 493 locations, maybe consider stopping in to show the shrinking chain some love. It is, after all, the consumer that keeps any restaurant running -- even in 2024.
Read the original article on Mashed.