Old Country Buffet

Losing Our Appetite?

The pandemic has touched off another sad chapter in the retail apocalypse, with big-name stores filing for bankruptcy at an unprecedented clip. Chain restaurants and cafes, though generally in better shape than their independent counterparts, are joining the chaos. Some were solidly profitable before COVID-19 shut down dining rooms across the country, while others were already struggling. Here are many notable chains that have closed locations permanently, including some of the nation’s most beloved buffet restaurants.

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Burger King, Popeyes, and Tim Hortons

Locations closed or closing: Hundreds
Restaurant Brands International is hitting pause on its normally fast-paced growth amid the pandemic. Instead, it plans to identify and close "several hundred" underperforming locations across its three brands: Burger King, Popeyes, and Tim Hortons. The company owns more than 27,000 restaurants around the world and hopes to eventually replace the shuttered locations.

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Dunkin’

Locations closed or closing: 700
Dunkin’ has closed nearly 700 of its more than 9,000 U.S. locations as part of a plan to shed underperforming locations and others that don’t fit its new growth strategy. The closures have included close to 450 Dunkin’ shops inside of Speedway gas stations.

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Pizza Hut

Locations closed or closing: 700
Dine-in Pizza Huts still exist, but they’ve become quite rare. Hundreds have closed as bankrupt NPC International, one of Pizza Hut’s largest franchisees, shuttered hundreds of underperforming dine-in locations. Pizza Hut says it has also closed many "express" locations that have seen pandemic-related declines in business due to locations in transportation hubs and other hard-hit spots.

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Starbucks

Locations closed or closing: 500
Even mega chains aren’t immune from the effects of the pandemic. Starbucks is cutting back on hard-hit urban and cafe-based locations, a decision that means it will close roughly 500 stores in the United States and another 300 in Canada by the end of 2021. However, the closings will be offset by about 850 new stores, many specializing in carryout and pickup.

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McDonald’s

Locations closed or closing: 200
The iconic Golden Arches have gone dark at 200 of the nation’s 14,000 McDonald’s locations. The company said it was simply speeding up the closures, which had been planned for coming years. Many will affect McDonald’s locations housed inside Walmart stores.

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Ruby Tuesday

Locations closed or closing: 185
This ubiquitous casual dining restaurant recently declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy and said it will permanently close more than 180 locations across the country. It had been struggling with declining sales before the pandemic, but says closures and reduced foot traffic related to COVID-19 made restructuring a necessity. The chain will be left with more than 230 company-owned locations, as well as an undisclosed number of franchised restaurants, according to USA Today.

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IHOP

Locations closed or closing: 150
Takeout and delivery haven’t been enough to save some IHOP locations during the pandemic. A major IHOP franchisee in the Southeast filed for bankruptcy in mid-2020, closing nearly 50 restaurants in the process. The chain also planned to close about 100 more underperforming locations.

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Godiva

Locations closed or closing: 128
Its in-person business slammed by the pandemic, Godiva has said it will close all 128 of its U.S. locations. The number includes boutiques that mainly sell boxed chocolates as well as cafes with coffee, tea, and baked goods. The company plans to refocus on selling products online and through other retailers, and its stores remain open in Europe and Asia.

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Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes

Locations closed or closing: 97
The pandemic has been particularly unkind to buffets, which have had to rethink their business models in light of federal guidelines warning against self-service. Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes opted for liquidation instead of reinvention, with owner Garden Fresh Restaurants filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in mid-2020.

Former Old Country Buffet by Dwight Burdette (CC BY)

Fresh Acquisitions

Locations closed or closing: 90+ (estimate)
Even if you’ve never heard of Fresh Acquisitions, you’ve probably heard of one of its brands, especially if you love buffets or steak: The company owns Old Country Buffet, Ryan’s, Hometown Buffet, Furr’s Fresh Buffet, and Tahoe Joe’s Famous Steakhouse. The pandemic has forced it into Chapter 11 and closed most of its restaurants, which have dwindled from about 100 to six. The company says it plans to focus on Furr’s and Tahoe Joe’s after it restructures; whether any of the other brands will survive remains unclear.

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Steak ‘n Shake

Locations closed or closing: 82
There are fewer places to grab a burger and a shake after the recent closure of more than 80 Steak ‘n Shake restaurants. The company was on rocky ground before COVID-19 and is struggling to refinance significant debt that will be due this year. Franchisees have complained that the company has lowered prices too much for their restaurants to remain profitable, and the chain has also struggled with declining foot traffic because of the pandemic.

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Locations closed or closing: 63
This Panera-like European import with U.S. locations clustered mostly on the East and West Coasts filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in spring of 2020, citing pandemic-related shutdowns as the reason. A new owner, Aurify Brands, said it would reopen only 35 of its 98 U.S. stores.

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Brio Tuscan Grille/Bravo Cucina Italiana

Locations closed or closing: 48
In a blow for pasta lovers everywhere, the parent company of Brio and Bravo filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April 2020. It also permanently closed nearly 50 locations during the pandemic. There is a glimmer of hope, however: Brio and Bravo have a new owner, Earl Enterprises, which has pledged to operate at least 45 of the 53 restaurants that remain.

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Bar Louie

Locations closed or closing: 38
Don’t blame COVID-19 for Bar Louie’s woes. The nationwide pub chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy at the beginning of 2020, before pandemic-related closures, and closed nearly 40 locations. Part of the problem: declining traffic at several of its restaurants, many of which are located near struggling shopping malls.

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CraftWorks

Locations closed or closing: 37
Though CraftWorks Holdings may not be a familiar name, chances are you’ve heard of the company’s restaurants, which include Logan’s Roadhouse, Old Chicago, Rock Bottom, and Gordon Biersch. CraftWorks filed for bankruptcy and closed a few dozen locations in the first couple months of 2020, and it’s unclear whether there will be more closings as a new company takes over.

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Chuck E. Cheese

Locations closed or closing: 34
The parent company of this iconic kids’ pizza chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in summer 2020 even as many of its 550 locations reopened across the country. The CEO called COVID-19 and its closures "the most challenging event in our company’s history." The company planned to permanently close nearly three dozen locations.

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Potbelly

Locations closed or closing: 30
The good news: This fast-casual sandwich shop won’t be closing nearly as many locations as it said it might in spring 2020, when it projected that up to 100 stores could soon close. The bad news: The company remains in danger of declaring bankruptcy as it works to survive massive sales declines stemming from COVID-19, and could even be evicted from its own headquarters in Chicago after failing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent and fees.

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Locations closed or closing: 26
Even the high-flying fast-casual segment hasn’t been immune to the coronavirus. Rubio’s, a California-based chain of Mexican restaurants, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October and closed more than two dozen locations. Sales had been in a slump for a few years, but the pandemic halted turnaround efforts, according to Restaurant Business Online.

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Taco Cabana

Locations closed or closing: 19
This Texas-based taco chain closed about 10% of its restaurants at the beginning of 2020. After the pandemic hit, its parent company received $15 million in federal loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, which was supposedly earmarked for small businesses. Under fire, it agreed to return the money.

Looking for an alternative? Here are 27 Tasty Taco Places Across the Country.

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Golden Corral

Locations closed or closing: At least 16

America’s most well-known buffet chain has been attempting to reinvent itself with safer service models during the pandemic, but the process hasn’t been without pitfalls. For instance, two of its largest franchisees have now filed for bankruptcy. The most recent, Platinum Corral, has closed 16 of its 28 restaurants. However, the real number of shuttered locations is likely far higher: Only 330 of the 490 pre-pandemic Golden Corrals are open right now, executives say.

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Denny’s

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Studio Movie Grill

Locations closed or closing: 14
Dinner and a movie are the classic night out — except, of course, during a global pandemic. Studio Movie Grill, a restaurant and theater chain with locations sprinkled around the country, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October 2020, when it had drained almost all of its cash reserves. Though the company was among the fastest growing in the theater business just two years ago, the pandemic led to a three-month closing. It recently re-emerged from Chapter 11 with 17 locations and plans to open two more, down from 33 before the pandemic.

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Pie Five

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Sizzler USA

Locations closed or closing: 6
Yes, Sizzler is still around, and the pandemic isn’t making it any easier for this throwback of a steakhouse chain to hold on. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September, citing a huge decline in dine-in business and trouble negotiating rent relief with its landlords. It has closed six restaurants permanently. There are more than 100 locations, but most are franchise-owned and will be unaffected by the filing.

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In Trouble: Cheesecake Factory

This chain has always been known for excess, from its exuberant decor to its massive menu to its calorie-packed dishes. But it may not have excess cash to draw on during the pandemic. It’s among the companies that have recently rankled landlords by holding back rent payments, and analysts with S&P Global Market Intelligent give the chain a 12% chance of defaulting in the next year.

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In Trouble: TGI Fridays

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Friendly’s by Mike Mozart (CC BY)
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