It’s Not Just Dunkin’: You Never Knew These Iconic Restaurants Changed Their Names

What’s in a name? A lot, apparently.

Dunkin’ Donuts shocked fans in early fall 2018 when they announced that they’d be dropping the “donuts” from their name and just sticking with Dunkin’ following a successful marketing test. As one of the oldest restaurants in the United States and a preferred spot for people to stop for their morning caffeine and sugar fix, fans were understandably surprised that the restaurant would make such a dramatic change.

But it turns out they’re not the only ones. Over the years, plenty of American mainstays have undergone menu changes, extreme renovations, branding refreshes, and yes, some have revolutionized their image by changing their names. Ahead, check out all the famous restaurants you never knew were named something different.

1. Domino’s

Domino's Pizza

Domino’s | Jetcityimage/iStock/Getty Images

Original name: DomiNick’s Pizza

One of the most popular chain pizza restaurants in the country used to go by a different name. Originally, it was called DomiNick’s Pizza after the founder, Dominick DiVarti. Two brothers purchased the struggling Ypsilanti, Michigan pizzeria for $500 and started expanding it, but Dominick made it clear he no longer wanted his name associated. They switched it to something similar but not exact: Domino’s.

Next: Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen

2. Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen


Popeyes | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Original name: Chicken on the Run

Popeyes opened as Chicken on the Run in 1972, but after lackluster sales, the marketing department quickly figured out that the name might be to blame. Perhaps it was a little too literal. Ultimately they went with Popeyes not because of the sailor man, but in reference to Gene Hackman’s detective character Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle in the 1971 film The French Connection.

Next: Panera

3. Panera

Panera storefront

Panera | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Original name: Saint Louis Bread Company

After Ron Shaich turned Au Bon Pain into a thriving business, he moved on to acquire another promising chain of fast casual restaurants that focused on lunch. Saint Louis Bread Company looked little like it does today – it was mostly Tiffany lamps and bread baskets. But after studying the market, he updated the look and created one of the most beloved breakfast and lunch spots in America.

Next: Seattle’s Best Coffee

4. Seattle’s Best Coffee

Seattle's Best coffee

Seattle’s Best Coffee | NoDerog/Getty Images

Original name: The Wet Whisker

The Wet Whisker sounds like a dive bar in a college town, which is a big part of the reason they opted to change the name. The founder wanted to become a household name, so he switched it to Stewart Brothers Coffee in the 1970s. However, a copyright issue forced the company to change it yet again. They knew they wanted to keep the initials “SBC,” so they came up with a local competition to come up with a new name that fit. Seattle’s Best Coffee won by a landslide.

Next: Red Robin

5. Red Robin

Red Robin sign

Red Robin | ivanastar/ iStock/Getty Images

Original name: Sam’s Tavern

You can attribute this name change to a restaurant owner who also happened to sing in a barbershop quartet. While Sam’s Tavern is a perfectly acceptable moniker, he loved singing the song, “When the Red, Red Robin (Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along)” so much that he changed the restaurant’s name to Sam’s Red Robin. Eventually, an entrepreneur purchased the franchise, shortened the name to just Red Robin, and the rest is history.

Next: Dunkin’ Donuts

7. Dunkin’ Donuts

A Dunkin' Donuts coffee and doughnut.

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

Original name: Open Kettle

Before Dunkin’ Donuts announced they were changing to just Dunkin’, they had a different name entirely: Open Kettle. But the original name didn’t conjure up images of freshly made doughnuts or hot coffee, so owner William Rosenberg changed it way back in 1950. Then it changed again in 2018.

Next: Applebee’s

8. Applebee’s

Applebees sign

Stores are closing across the nation | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Original name: T.J. Applebee’s Rx for Edibles & Elixirs

If there’s one thing all these name changes have in common, it’s that any long, difficult to remember names need to be shortened and simplified in order to achieve nationwide success. That’s exactly what happened with Applebee’s six years after they opened in 1980.

Next: KFC

9. KFC

KFC Restaurants

KFC logo | Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Original name: Kentucky Fried Chicken

Most people think that calling it KFC is just a friendly nickname, but in reality, the restaurant’s official name is just that: KFC. That’s because of legislation from 1990 that made any companies with the word “Kentucky” in them had to pay licensing fees. Eventually the restaurant managed to trademark the Kentucky Fried Chicken and avoid the extra fees, but the name KFC remained.

Next: McDonald’s

10. McDonald’s

McDonald's yellow and red drive-thru logo

McDonald’s | TonyBaggett/iStock/Getty Images

Original name: McDonald’s Bar-B-Q

It’s unlikely that Dick and Mack McDonald could have dreamed that their California burger joint would one day become the most well known and profitable fast food restaurant in the world. Would it have happened if they kept the original name, McDonald’s Bar-B-Q? It’s possible, but not likely.

Next: Denny’s

11. Denny’s


Denny’s | Billy Hathorn/Wikimedia Commons

Original name: Danny’s Donuts

Danny’s switched to Denny’s because of a mix-up. Apparently, customers kept confusing the original name with Coffee Dan’s in Los Angeles, so the co-founder distinguished his restaurant by changing to Denny’s Coffee Shop. In 1961, that name got shortened to just plain old Denny’s.

Next: Burger King

12. Burger King

Burger King

Burger King | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Original name: Insta-Burger King

Keith Kramer and his wife’s uncle, Matthew Burns, wanted to create the next McDonald’s back in 1953. They bought the rights to a grill machine called the Insta-Broiler and based on that, named their new restaurant concept Insta-Burger King. A pair of Cornell graduates purchased the restaurant chain and the name was shortened to simply Burger King in 1961.

Next: Jack in the Box

13. Jack in the Box

Jack in the box

Jack in the Box | David McNew/Getty Images

Original name: Topsy’s Drive-In

Topsy’s was a popular drive-in restaurant in San Diego. Businessman Robert O. Peterson came up with the idea of situating his restaurant in close proximity to hungry commuters and installing the nation’s first drive-thru intercom to make getting dinner easier. The name changed to Oscar’s before it switched to Jack in the Box permanently.

Next: Perkins Restaurant and Bakery

14. Perkins Restaurant and Bakery


Perkins | Mr. Satterly/Wikimedia Commons

Original name: Perkins Pancake House

The original Perkins was focused on pancakes, but when that didn’t drive enough traffic, it was renamed Perkins Cake and Steak. That worked – kind of – until the 1980s when they rebranded as Perkins Family Restaurant. These days they’re sticking with Perkins Restaurant and Bakery… for now, at least.

Next: Sonic Drive-In

15. Sonic Drive-In

Sonic Drive-In Restaurant exterior

Sonic | Wolterk/iStock/Getty Images

Original name: Top Hat

Back in the 50s, Sonic was called Top Hat. However, customers didn’t know that they’d be able to sit in their cars and place their orders via speakers with “service at the speed of sound.” These days, Sonic Drive-In is one of the only existing chain drive-ins in the country.