Death (and bizarre zombie afterlife) to chains.


I have a dim memory of seeing that Chi Chi’s in Luxembourg, probably in 2002. Kenny Rogers Roasters food never passed my lips. Rax? Maybe in the 1970s.

Death to chains, people.

The Surprising Resilience of Failed Fast Food Chains, by Ernie Smith (Atlas Obscura)

Losing can be an opportunity to do something different.

… So it wasn’t a surprise then, when (Kenny Rogers Roasters) eventually faltered, and, by 1998, Rogers himself was trying to disassociate himself. The company was sold in 1999 to Nathan’s, the hot dog chain, and after years of declines, the chain—which once had over 300 locations—closed its last location in North America in 2011.

The real story, though, is what happened just before that. Because while Kenny Rogers was winding down its U.S. operations it was doing the opposite in Asia, having been bought by a Malaysian firm in 2008. Three years later, the chain was earning $100 million in revenue—nearly all from overseas—despite the fact Kenny Rogers is presumably less of a draw in Asia than he might be in the U.S.

And, last year, the chain opened up its first Indian location, with the goal of reaching $10 million in sales and 40 to 50 locations in India alone by 2021.

Now, there are more than 400 locations worldwide—topping its ‘90s peak and, in the process becoming one of a number of chains that have faltered domestically but gone on to have strange, often lucrative second lives, whether they exist, like Kenny Rogers Roasters, as successful American exports or whether they persist, like the last remaining Chi Chi’s restaurants in Belgium and Luxembourg, as a wildly diminished if improbably stubborn reminders of a chain’s former greatness.