Do You Know the Country’s Oldest Restaurant Chains?

Many of today's best-known chain restaurants have been around since the early 1900s! Can you name all 15 of them?

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A&W, whose Fairlane Mall store logo is shown
Susan Montgomery/Shutterstock

A&W (1919)

That’s right—the root beer kings founded the first-ever chain restaurant in America. By the 1970s, A&W even had more locations open than McDonald’s. Today, they aren’t known for their food as much as they are for their root beer… but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Pick up some A&W to make our Root Beer Float Cake.

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White Castle restaurant exterior.
Ken Wolter/Shutterstock

White Castle (1921)

White Castle got its start by selling five-cent sliders, a cheaper take on hamburgers. The business model worked, and White Castle is still around over 90 years later. In 2014, Time named the Original Slider the “most influential burger of all time!”

These little sliders pack big flavor.

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Dairy Queen, or DQ, is a fast food restaurant chain owned by International Dairy Queen, Inc.
kevin brine/Shutterstock

Dairy Queen (1940)

They’ve had more than 75 years’ experience flipping your Blizzard upside down! Dairy Queen was one of the first restaurant franchises ever founded, but strangely enough, the first location wasn’t in a big metropolis like most of the other chains. Instead, the first soft-serve cone came out of Joliet, Illinois.

Put in your order—all our Dairy Queen copycat recipes are delish.

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An exterior view of a Dunkin Donuts coffee shop in New York City
Shutterstock / JStone

Dunkin’ Donuts (1948)

First it was called Open Kettle—and then Kettle Donuts—but the Dunkin’ Donuts we know and love started back in the 1940s. (That’s way before the first Starbucks, which opened in the 1970s.)

Get the sweet Dunkin’ Donuts history here.

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Sign of In-N-Out Burger is an American regional chain of fast food restaurants
Shutterstock / meunierd

In-N-Out (1948)

With that classic red and yellow logo with ’40s-style graphic design, you can tell In-N-Out has been around for a while. This California-based burger stand is known for its high-quality fast food, thick milkshakes and not-so-secret secret menu. The original location of the restaurant used to exist on what’s now Interstate 10.

You can have In-N-Out anywhere in the world, thanks to our copycat collection.

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Jack-In-The-Box Fast Food Restaurant.
Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock

Jack in the Box (1951)

Jack in the Box might not have been the first chain restaurant out there, but it was originally the fastest. They pioneered the intercom system for drive-thru service, which included two-way radio communication and a separate pick-up window!

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KFC fast food restaurant.
Sergey Edentod/Shutterstock

KFC (1952)

KFC was founded in Salt Lake City. The store’s original location is credited with inventing the rotating sign, which featured an illustration of a giant bucket of chicken that could spin 360 degrees.

You can make KFC chicken at home—here’s the top-secret recipe.

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Denny's Fast casual restaurant and diner.
Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock

Denny’s (1953)

Denny’s didn’t always start out as a diner…at first, they specialized in donuts! Then, they switched the business model to focus on coffee before finally transforming into the 24-hour pancakes-and-burgers franchise that exists today. (The chain’s current logo might look retro, but it’s actually not—it was designed in 2002.)

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Sonic Drive-In Restaurant exterior. Sonic Corp. is an American drive-in fast-food restaurant chain
Shutterstock / Ken Wolter

Sonic (1953)

Unlike most of today’s fast food places, which have a drive thru and pick up windows, Sonic is unique. If you’ve ever ordered a Sonic Bacon Cheeseburger, you’ll know that you park your car at one of the drive-in stations, place your order and wait for a server to bring the food! This method of delivery is part of what made Sonic stand out in its early day.

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People walk by McDonald's restaurant in Chicago.

McDonald’s (1955)

Even though most people assume it would be first, McDonald’s was actually not founded until the mid-1950s. Back then, it was called “McDonald’s Bar-B-Q,” but the founders decided to change the name and focus on burgers. (Take a look at all the McD’s menu changes.) Today, McDonald’s is often thought of as the world’s most popular fast food chain, but they’re actually second to a surprising front-runner.

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Exterior and Logo of Iconic Southern Restaurant Chain Waffle House.
Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock

Waffle House (1955)

With that iconic yellow-lettered sign, it’s easy to spot a Waffle House from miles away. This chain was founded in Decatur, Georgia, and the first restaurant was actually converted into a Waffle House museum.

You can make Waffle House waffles at home—here’s how.

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International House of Pancakes.
Shutterstock / Jonathan Weiss

IHOP (1958)

Americans were shocked to hear that IHOP was changing its name to IHOB to promote the chain’s new hamburgers. Luckily, in honor of their 60th anniversary, the International House of Pancakes decided to go back to their original name—and we’re glad they did.

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Pizza Hut Fast Casual Restaurant.
Shutterstock / Jonathan Weiss

Pizza Hut (1958)

That’s right—Pizza Hut was the first chain pizza joint in America. The original restaurant was less-than-large, with only twenty-five seats. They also only had space on the sign for nine letters, so they decided to call the place “Pizza Hut” due to the building’s small size. Americans have tons of favorite pizza joints—find out the best pizza chain of 2022.

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Domino's Pizza store
Shutterstock / Scott Kenneth Brodie

Domino’s (1960)

This iconic pizza place got their start in 1960, but they didn’t get their name until 1965. The original locations were called Domi-Nick’s!

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T.G.I's Friday neon sign in Manhattan.
Shutterstock / oneinchpunch

TGI Friday’s (1965)

The founder of TGI Friday’s was living in New York City when he realized it was hard to meet people, since most bars were filled with couples. He started Friday’s as a “singles’ bar” with special ladies’ nights.

Psst! Our copycat Friday’s Potato Skins recipe is perfect for at-home date night.

Emma B. Kumer
Emma Kumer is a marathon-runner, magazine-writer, and graphic design addict. She was a digital editorial intern for Taste of Home Magazine for Summer 2017. She is also a junior in Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.