The 15 Oldest Restaurant Chains in the Country
Many of today’s best-known chain restaurants have been around since the early 1900s! Can you name all 15 of them?
That’s right—the root beer kings founded the first-ever chain restaurant in America. By the 1970s, A&W even had more locations open than McDonald’s. Today, they aren’t known for their food as much as they are for their root beer… but we wouldn’t have it any other way. Pick up some A&W to make our Root Beer Float Cake.
White Castle (1921)
White Castle got its start by selling five-cent sliders, a cheaper take on hamburgers. The business model worked, and White Castle is still around over 90 years later. In 2014, Time named the Original Slider the “most influential burger of all time”!
Dairy Queen (1940)
They’ve had more than 75 years’ experience flipping your Blizzard upside down! Dairy Queen was one of the first restaurant franchises ever founded, but strangely enough, the first location wasn’t in a big metropolis like most of the other chains. Instead, the first soft-serve cone came out of Joliet, Illinois. Put in your order—all our Dairy Queen copycat recipes are delish.
Dunkin’ Donuts (1948)
First it was called Open Kettle—and then Kettle Donuts—but the Dunkin’ Donuts we know and love started back in the 1940s. (That’s way before the first Starbucks, which opened in the 1970s.) Get the sweet Dunkin’ Donuts history here.
With that classic red and yellow logo with ’40s-style graphic design, you can tell In-N-Out has been around for a while. This California-based burger stand is known for its high-quality fast food, thick milkshakes and not-so-secret secret menu. The original location of the restaurant used to exist on what’s now Interstate 10. Find out how all your favorite fast-food restaurants got their name.
Jack in the Box (1951)
Jack in the Box might not have been the first chain restaurant out there, but it was originally the fastest. They pioneered the intercom system for drive-through service, which included two-way radio communication and a separate pick-up window!
KFC was founded in Salt Lake City. The store’s original location is credited with inventing the rotating sign, which featured an illustration of a giant bucket of chicken that could spin 360 degrees. You can make KFC chicken at home—here’s the top-secret recipe.
Denny’s didn’t always start out as a diner…at first, they specialized in donuts! Then, they switched the business model to focus on coffee before finally transforming into the 24-hour pancakes-and-burgers franchise that exists today. (The chain’s current logo might look retro, but it’s actually not—it was designed in 2002.)
Unlike most of today’s fast food places, which have a drive-through and pick up windows, Sonic is unique. If you’ve ever ordered a Sonic Bacon Cheeseburger, you’ll know that you park your car at one of the drive-in stations, place your order and wait for a server to bring the food! This method of delivery is part of what made Sonic stand out in its early day. Check out the first locations of some famous fast-food restaurants.
Even though most people assume it would be first, McDonald’s was actually not founded until the mid-1950s. Back then, it was called “McDonald’s Bar-B-Q,” but the founders decided to change the name and focus on burgers. (Take a look at all the McD’s menu changes.) Today, McDonald’s is often thought of as the world’s most popular fast food chain, but they’re actually second to a surprising front-runner.
Americans were shocked to hear that IHOP was changing its name to IHOB to promote the chain’s new hamburgers. Luckily, in honor of their 60th anniversary, the International House of Pancakes decided to go back to their original name—and we’re glad they did.
Pizza Hut (1958)
That’s right—Pizza Hut was the first chain pizza joint in America. The original restaurant was less-than-large, with only 25 seats. They also only had space on the sign for nine letters, so they decided to call the place “Pizza Hut” due to the building’s small size. Don't miss these fast-food scandals that rocked the industry.
This iconic pizza place got their start in 1960, but they didn’t get their name until 1965. The original locations were called Domi-Nick’s!
TGI Friday’s (1965)
The founder of TGI Friday’s was living in New York City when he realized it was hard to meet people since most bars were filled with couples. He started Friday’s as a “singles’ bar” with special ladies’ nights. Next, find out the 33 things your fast-food worker isn't telling you.