5 Old-School Restaurant Chains That Chefs Miss the Most

Looking back on growing up, some chefs’ fondest memories are those of their first Happy Meal or the first fancy dinner at a bistro or steakhouse to celebrate a graduation or a game well played.

Unfortunately, as time passes, restaurants come and go—especially favorite chains that seem like they’d be there forever. We asked chefs what chains they miss the most, and why. Some of these are completely gone, and some have shrunk their reach and closed locations, but all have left strong food memories that inspire them today.

RELATED: 5 Old-School Chain Restaurant Meals We Can’t Get Over, According to Chefs

marie callenders restaurant

Paris Baguette Executive Chef Andre Fuehr misses this comfort food favorite that used to have locations all over the West Coast, but only has a few in California these days.

“Since I am from the West Coast but have been gone for 20 to 25 years, I genuinely miss Marie Calender’s. I used to go there to get great comfort food dinner. The Pot Pies were fantastic,” says Fuehr. “But then, to get a slice of pie at the end of the meal was a great treat.”

Good news for pie lovers though, the brand’s pies can be found in the frozen section of many supermarkets. 

Sweet tomatoes restaurant
Michael Rivera / Wikimedia Commons

This Florida-based chain of buffets was an unfortunate victim of the pandemic, closing for good in 2020, and it is missed.

Sean Ferraro, chef-owner of Madison Avenue Pizza in Florida, told us, “I really miss Sweet Tomatoes. Sure, it’s buffet food and maybe not the highest caliber, but that salad bar was awesome and so was the unlimited soft-serve ice cream and soups. And I didn’t feel like I was eating a bunch of calories, even though I probably was.”

A Tribute to Chi Chi’s Mexican Restaurant/Facebook

“I still have flashbacks of trying out Mexican delicacies at the old Chi-Chi’s restaurants in Philadelphia,” says Brian Nagele, restaurant owner and founder of Restaurant Clicks. “For me, it was a place to experiment with new flavors and learn to appreciate different backgrounds.”

The Mexican chain opened in 1975, and closed in 2004, with a line of salsas still available in some stores. Nagele adds, “But if you ask me, there’s never been a replacement for the chimichangas we used to enjoy when Chi-Chi’s was still around.”

Farrell's Ice Cream Parlor
Farrell’s / Facebook

Founded in 1963, this West Coast chain closed its final shop in 2019. Chef and author Allen Bixby shares his memories of it, saying “They probably served stuff other than ice cream, but as a kid, if you ever watched two employees run by with the ‘Zoo,’ a monstrous sundae, held on their shoulders with two poles, you knew you were in for a great time! Your sugar coma was complete if you got to spend your allowance in the candy shop on your way out.”

dairy queen burger
Courtesy of Dairy Queen

While this chain of fast food and ice cream once reigned supreme across the United States, some regions have seen closures, but others have seen growth. Jessica Randhawa of The Forked Spoon, sure misses going to DQ.

“Growing up, I have fond memories of getting Dairy Queen hamburgers and ice cream on hot swim days. While I know they are still around, I haven’t seen one in years, and the chain doesn’t seem to be growing.”

Tanya Edwards

Tanya Edwards is a seasoned food and health journalist, who has held roles at Yahoo Health as Managing Editor and at Food Network as Programming Director. Read more about Tanya

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