Special Report

Regional Restaurant Chains We Wish Were Nationwide

Source: Craig Barritt / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

> Headquarters: New York City
> Number of units (approximate): 13
> Region served: Florida, New York City, Washington D.C.

What started as a taco bus in Playa Del Carmen in 2006 morphed into a small taquería in Downtown New York in 2010, and today it’s a popular Mexican fast-casual chain with 13 East Coast locations and a recent large investment from restaurateur Danny Meyer, who plans to position it as a Chipotle competitor. Founded by Dario Wolos, Tacombi has a relaxed, beachy vibe, and the menu emphasizes classic Mexican street tacos with fillings including al pastor, carne asada, black bean & sweet potato, and Baja-style crispy fish. They also make their own tortillas and chips under the brand name Vista Hermosa, which are available at more than 800 retail stores.

The Varsity
> Headquarters: Atlanta
> Number of units (approximate): 6
> Region served: Georgia

Founded in Downtown Atlanta in 1928, The Varsity is today an Atlanta landmark with four area locations and two at the city’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Billed as The World’s Largest Drive-in Restaurant and still owned by the founding Gordy family, The Varsity sells fast food classics like burgers, hot dogs, fries and onion rings, chicken nuggets, shakes (try the famous Frosted Orange), and fried pies. Prices remain shockingly low; at the flagship, a hot dog costs $1.91 and a cheeseburger costs $2.79.

> Headquarters: Hattiesburg, MS
> Number of units (approximate): 38
> Region served: Mississippi

Ward’s is a quintessential fast food chain in Mississippi, with nearly 40 locations around the state. Just about every Mississippian recognizes the terms “Big One” and “Little One” as the chain’s signature burgers, dressed up with homemade chili and their signature sauce. Founded by Richard and Ed Ward in 1978, it has since become renowned for its chili and homemade root beer along with fried chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, and milkshakes. It’s a classic, homespun fast food chain.

Source: Photo by Winchell's Donuts via Yelp

Winchell’s Donuts
> Headquarters: Industry, CA
> Number of units (approximate): 170
> Region served: California, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma

“Home of the Warm ‘n Fresh Donut” since its founding by Verne Winchell in Temple City, California, in 1948, Winchell’s is today the West Coast’s largest doughnut chain (or so it claims), famously serving a 14-doughnut dozen at its 170-plus locations in California, Nevada, Nebraska, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Kansas, as well as Guam and Spain. Many locations are open around the clock, and customers can stock up on a huge variety of donuts, cinnamon rolls, muffins, bagels, croissants, and sandwiches, with specially blended coffee made from the highest grade of dark roasted Arabica beans to drink.

Source: Courtesy of Zippy's

> Headquarters: Honolulu
> Number of units (approximate): 24
> Region served: Hawaii

Zippy’s was founded in Honolulu by brothers Francis and Charles Higa in 1966, and it’s since become a Hawaii institution, with 24 locations on Oahu, Maui, and the BigIsland, with one coming soon to Las Vegas. Its menu is chock-full of comfort food classics, including their signature chili, of which they reportedly sell 100 tons a month. Along with burgers, classic breakfast fare, and doughnuts, they also offer international-inspired items like sushi, Korean fried chicken, and spaghetti and meat sauce, along with plenty of Hawaiian specialties like loco moco, saimin, and gut-busting plate lunches.

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