Remember these 11 now-defunct NJ food chains? We miss them
Ahh that iconic turquoise and orange pointed roof and the best breakfast in town. That familiarity when you’d find one along a road traveling to somewhere else and you knew you’d get a good meal. America’s last Howard Johnson's restaurant — a 7,500-square-foot single-story diner, which had sat off Lake George, NY's Route 9 for almost 70 years — closed its doors just this past June.
It had over 60 locations in the early 1980s, several here in NJ, but its last known shop closed in 2009. Beefsteak Charlie’s was a fun, reliable place to eat. It attempted to win people over by giving them what they wanted: lots of good, simple food and drink at a reasonable price.
One of the most famous Mexican food chains ever, Chi-Chi's found its way into America's hearts with its popular Cancun enchiladas, sweet corn cake, And twice grilled BBQ burritos.
On the weekend of September 18, 2004, Chi-Chi's closed all 65 of its remaining restaurants. There are still Facebook pages devoted to bringing Chi-Chi's back.
Kenny Rogers Roasters
Founded by the singer, his eponymous restaurants were legendary. His chicken strips were addictive. Even Kramer on Seinfeld got addicted to it. The only complaint about the chain? The non-stop playing of the star's music over and over again in all its locations. now the chain exists only in parts of Asia and the UAE.
Steak and Ale
Who can forget the signature herb-roasted prime rib, Kensington club, New York strip, filet mignon, Hawaiian chicken, and spicy grilled chicken pasta? The restaurant featured an unlimited salad bar or a choice of soup with most of its entrees on the dinner menu. It also featured free drink refills and honey wheat bread.
At one time there were 8-10 Sambos locations in NJ, mostly in South Jersey. Though the name was taken from portions of the names of its founders, the chain soon found itself associated with the famous book, The Story of Little Black Sambo. The owners ran with this, decorating the walls of the restaurants with scenes from the book. The restaurant went bankrupt in 1981 and took its New Jersey locations with it.
The laid-back vibe, the peanut shells on the floor, and the simple inexpensive fare are what made the Ground Round such a sensation. We’ll always remember them showing silent movies and cartoons on a big screen, a mascot named Bingo the Clown, and passing out those famous peanuts. Although a revamped version exists in several states around the country, sadly, New Jersey is not one of them.
Originally a Tucson, Arizona joint, the NJ Greasy Tony’s was near Rutgers University-New Brunswick. greasy Tony’s was famous for their cheesesteak subs and Italian sausage. Many a Rutgers student remembers the famous motto “no charge for extra grease“. Proprietor Tony Giorgianni's specialty was the "Trashcan", a RU Fat Sandwich containing whichever items that happened to be lying around at that particular moment.
Now only existing at some 10 locations in some US fly over states as well as in the UAE, Bennigan's was once the home of great food and fun for many a New Jerseyan. With an Irish pub theme, Bennigan's was a go to if you just wanted well prices, casual dining and a fun night out with the family or with a couple of buddies.
Known for hamburgers such as the Sirloiner, which was made from sirloin steak (and was originally a staple of Tops Drive Inn), the Jumbo Gino, which was very similar to the Whopper and the Gino Giant, which predated and later also had the exclusive distribution rights to Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Piggybacking on the fast-food hamburger craze, burger chef was a great alternative. In fact, New Jersey in particular loved burger chefs. They famously gave McDonald’s a serious run for their money. Famous for their Big Shef and Super Shef hamburgers, they went out of business in 1996, but no one remembers exactly when the last NJ location closed.
Opinions expressed in the post above are those of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Judi Franco only.
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