The 15 Oldest Chain Restaurants in the United States

If you believe the headlines, then you already know that chain restaurants are a dying breed. But even though these eateries are less popular than they were a decade ago, it doesn’t mean they’re going to completely disappear anytime soon. In fact, there are plenty of areas of the country where people still love going to get family-friendly meals in a familiar atmosphere.

Not all chain restaurants are on the verge of closure. Some are even thriving, especially the ones that have been around for decades. Ahead, check out the oldest chain restaurants in the country, including the oldest one that opened way back in 1919.

15. TGI Friday’s

TGI Fridays

TGI Friday’s | BreatheFitness/Getty Images

Year founded: 1965

Your favorite chain for apps and cocktails was founded by a single guy in New York City who had a hard time navigating the singles scene. Alan Stillman wanted to create a place where single people could hang out and socialize, hopefully finding a date. Part of the success of the concept? He just happened to create a cocktail bar geared toward singles the same year that The Pill was invented.

Next: Domino’s

14. Domino’s


Domino’s Pizza storefront | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Year founded: 1960

They may have started out with a different name, (Domi-Nick’s), but this restaurant always sold pizza. Brothers Tom and James Monaghan purchased the Ypsilanti, Michigan pizzeria for just $500. Now they’ve expanded beyond pizza, selling sandwiches, pasta, appetizers, and desserts to entice all types of appetites.

Next: Pizza Hut

13. Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut | Jax10289/iStock/Getty Images

Year founded: 1958

Domino’s isn’t the only chain pizza joint that’s been around for decades. Pizza Hut is older by two years – and is officially the first chain pizza restaurant in America. The first location in Wichita, Kansas only had seating for 25 and the building was so small that they could only fit nine letters on the sign. That’s why they simply called it, “Pizza Hut.” On opening night, they gave away pizza to encourage community interest in the new concept.

Next: IHOP

12. IHOP

IHOP International House of Pancakes

An IHOP restaurant | Wolterk/ iStock/ Getty Images

Year founded: 1958

America’s favorite breakfast spot started out in a suburb of Los Angeles in 1958. The International House of Pancakes quickly grew through franchising and because everyone loves ordering pancakes any time of day. They started using the acronym – IHOP – in 1973.

Next: Waffle House

11. Waffle House

Waffle House

Waffle House | SeanPavonePhoto/iStock/Getty Images

Year founded: 1955

The black and yellow sign sets them apart – and draws customers in from miles away. Waffle House got their start in Decatur, Georgia in 1955. That first location was eventually converted from a place for breakfast into the official Waffle House museum, which you can still visit today.

Next: McDonald’s

10. McDonald’s

McDonald's Big Mac

McDonald’s | Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Year founded: 1955

Is there anyone who doesn’t know what McDonald’s is? The most successful chain restaurant of all time started in 1955 when Ray Kroc saw the potential of a small burger shop operated by brothers Dick and Mac McDonald. He bought the name and the rights – the rest is history.

Next: Sonic

9. Sonic

Sonic Drive-In Restaurant exterior

Sonic | Wolterk/iStock/Getty Images

Year founded: 1953

The drive-in concept didn’t survive changing consumer tastes, but one chain restaurant beat the odds: Sonic. This retro-style eatery is one of the few surviving drive-ins with reliably great burgers and milkshakes. The first one opened in Shawnee, Oklahoma in 1953.

Next: Denny’s

8. Denny’s


Denny’s | Billy Hathorn/Wikimedia Commons

Year founded: 1953

It may be one of America’s best-known diners, but back before they sold egg platters, Denny’s was known for their donuts. Danny’s Donuts operated 24 hours per day but switched their name in 1959 to avoid confusion with Coffee Dan’s. The first Grand Slam breakfast was introduced in 1977 in honor of famed ballplayer Hank Aaron.

Next: KFC

7. KFC


KFC | Aureliefrance/iStock/Getty Images

Year founded: 1952

Sixth-grade dropout Colonel Harland Sanders started selling fried chicken in his home city of Corbin, Kentucky. The first “Kentucky Fried Chicken” franchise opened in Salt Lake City in 1952 once the Colonel saw the expansion potential. For years he carried the secret fried chicken recipe in his head, but now it’s kept in a safe in Kentucky.

Next: Jack in the Box

6. Jack in the Box

Jack in the box

Jack in the Box | David McNew/Getty Images

Year founded: 1951

It was 1951 when businessman Robert O. Peterson opened his first Jack in the Box restaurant in a strategic location. Situated on the main east-west thoroughfare leading into San Diego, it became a popular stop for hungry commuters. They were the first quick-service restaurant to focus on the drive-thru rather than the dining room.

Next: In-N-Out

5. In-N-Out

In-N-Out Burger, Inc. is a regional chain of fast food restaurants

In-N-Out Burger | SweetBabeeJay/iStock/Getty Images

Year founded: 1948

If you’re lucky enough to live in the Southwest or on the Pacific coast, then no doubt you’ve tasted the iconic In-N-Out burger or sampled from their so-called “secret menu.” The chain, which was founded in 1948, is still privately owned and does not franchise for fear of sacrificing food quality.

Next: Dunkin’ Donuts

4. Dunkin’ Donuts

A Dunkin' Donuts coffee and doughnut.

Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and doughnut | New_Folder/iStock/Getty Images

Year founded: 1948

Long before Starbucks started serving PSLs, Dunkin’ Donuts ruled the coffee and donuts world. They started out in Quincy, Massachusetts with the name Open Kettle and later changed to Kettle Donuts, selling donuts for just five cents. They currently have 12,000 worldwide locations in 45 countries and don’t plan on slowing expansion efforts anytime soon.

Next: Dairy Queen

3. Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen Retail Fast Food Location. DQ i

Dairy Queen | jetcityimage/iStock/Getty Images

Year founded: 1940

Everyone loves ice cream, which is why DQ has stuck around for so long. The first location opened in the small town of Joliet, Illinois in 1940. On their first day of business, Dairy Queen distributed 1,600 servings of the new concept soft serve ice cream in just two hours.

Next: White Castle

2. White Castle

White Castle restaurant

White Castle | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Year founded: 1921

What’s cheaper than a hamburger? A tiny hamburger. White Castle got their start selling value-priced sliders for just five cents each in Wichita, Kansas in 1921. Time Magazine named White Castle’s Original Slider as the “most influential burger of all time.”

Next: A&W

1. A&W

A&W Restaurant

A&W | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Year founded: 1919

The oldest restaurant chain in the United States is known for – root beer! A&W began as a walk-up root beer stand in Lodi, California on June 20, 1919. Founder Roy W. Allen partnered with his employee Frank Wright, combined their names, and started the first A&W in Sacramento in 1923. They were known for serving their tasty root beer in ice-cold frosty mugs.