Special Report

America’s 30 Oldest Restaurant Chains

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IHOP
> Year founded: 1958
> Original location: Toluca Lake, CA
> Approximate number of units (US only): 1,666

Founded in Los Angeles in 1958 by brothers Al and Jerry Lapin and Albert Kallis, IHOP (International House of Pancakes) quickly became successful thanks to its lineup of classic breakfast dishes and wide variety of pancakes and syrups. Additional locations soon followed, easily identified by their A-frame construction and blue-and-red color scheme. They sold the company to what’s now called Dine Brands Global in 1976.

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Pizza Hut
> Year founded: 1958
> Original location: Wichita, KS
> Approximate number of units (US only): 6,614

Pizza was still something of a novelty in Wichita, Kansas, back in 1958, when brothers Dan and Frank Carney, both Wichita State University students, decided to borrow $600 from their mother to open a pizza restaurant catering to local students. The small sign only had room for a handful of letters, so “Pizza Hut” it was. Even though the duo had no business or pizza-making training, they learned quickly and the business was a success. The first franchise opened in Topeka the following year, and it became a certified smash after pioneering home pizza delivery. In 1977, after opening 4,000 locations, the duo sold the company to PepsiCo for more than $300 million.

Sizzler
> Year founded: 1958
> Original location: Culver City, CA
> Approximate number of units (US only): 107

Founded as Sizzler Family Steak House by Del and Helen Johnson in Culver City, California, in 1958, Sizzler was an immediate success thanks to its inexpensive prices: a full steak dinner sold for just $1.19, or about $11.58 in 2022 dollars. They were able to keep prices low by cutting all steaks themselves and grinding meat in-house, and the addition of a salad bar helped bring in even more business. The company hasn’t been faring very well lately. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2020.

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McDonald’s
> Year founded: 1955
> Original location: San Bernardino, CA
> Approximate number of units (US only): 13,257

The most famous fast food chain of them all, with the most famous origin story of them all, McDonald’s was founded by Diсk and Mac McDonald, who opened a restaurant that sold a streamlined menu of burgers, potato chips, drinks, and apple pie in San Bernardino, California, in 1948. Four years later, they built a new building from scratch (complete with the famous Golden Arches) and implemented a whole host of improvements to cook and serve food quicker and get customers out the door quicker. Five franchises had opened by the time a milkshake machine salesman named Ray Kroc took notice in 1954, and he turned the company into a global powerhouse, pushing the McDonald brothers out in the process. Kroc’s first franchise (the company’s ninth restaurant overall) opened in 1955. This is the year that the company currently officially claims it was founded.

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Waffle House
> Year founded: 1955
> Original location: Avondale Estates, GA
> Approximate number of units (US only): 1,952

A beloved Southern staple, Waffle House opened its first location on Labor Day 1955 in Avondale Estates, Georgia, in the Atlanta metropolitan area. It’s still headquartered in Atlanta today. Joe Rogers, who founded it with realtor Tom Forkner, was a former short order cook and restaurant manager who had the idea to combine the speed of fast food with table service and 24/7 availability. As waffles were the most profitable item on the menu, the duo decided on the Waffle House name. Waffle House exploded in popularity along with the development of the interstate highway system and suburbs, and today has more than 2,100 locations. The original location was re-acquired by the company, restored, and opened as a museum in 2007.

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