How to Enjoy Old Chain Restaurants


IHOP is now IHOB, and now it’s in a fight with all the burger chains, because nothing can stay pure in our decrepit world. Luckily Metafilter recently unearthed a charming blog called Broken Chains, which reviews the remaining locations of chain restaurants long past their prime, like Ponderosa, Lum’s, and the York Steak House.

I asked comedians Nick Wiger and Mike Mitchell, who earnestly discuss chain restaurants on their podcast Doughboys, about the charm of old chains. They got Proustian about it: Old chains, they say, “are always worth visiting to try and understand what they wanted to be. To see what it is now, and compare it to your memory (or imagination) of its past.” For example, they visited a Carrows in South Pasadena: “Everything about its decor, food, and service reflected a business that was slowly fading away.”

They gave me a meditation that sounds like the opening narration on some future movie about Chi-Chi’s: “There’s a sadness to a dying chain, especially one that used to be good. Whether its time has passed. Or the passion has faded. Or if it just didn’t work. Or to say goodbye.”

If you’d rather feel nostalgia than a bewildered numbness when you next visit a chain, here’s the Doughboys’ advice for finding an overlooked chain: “Follow the regulars, especially seniors. Just know that they may be sticking around out of nostalgia, or loyalty, and your own experience may end not being good. It may be bad. But it’ll be an experience.”



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