The 10 Oldest Fast Food Chains in the U.S.

The 10 Oldest Fast Food Chains in the U.S.

We have all been to a number of different fast food places all over the country. It is interesting to note how long some of them have been around and will surprise you. While the Coronavirus pandemic has had an effect on  many of them with shut downs, closures, etc. these ten are still going pretty strong. So here are the 10 oldest fast food chains in the U.S. starting with number 10 down to number 1 and the oldest may surprise you.

10. Sonic Drive-In – In the tenth spot is Sonic. It began in 1953 as the Top Hat Drive-in in Shawnee, Oklahoma. The first franchise location came in 1956. The idea of car hops serving customers in their cars on roller skates is still in use today. From that beginning Sonic has now grown to over 3,500 restaurants in 46 states.

9.  Denny’s –  Denny’s also came along in 1953. It began in Lakewood, California as Danny’s Donuts. Then it was changed to Danny’s Coffee Shops in 1959. In 1961 the name was changed to Denny’s and became a full service 24/7 restaurant. Even with closures of a number of units there still more than 1,200 Denny’s in the U.S. and around the world.

8. KFC – Technically the whole Kentucky Fried Chicken idea began in the 1930’s but never under that name. That changed in 1952 when the first Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant opened in Salt Lake City, Utah with Col. Harlan Sanders and Pete Harman. Today there are more than 24,000 KFC locations around the world.

7. Jack in the Box – It began as Topsy’s Drive-in in the 1940’s by Robert Peterson in San Diego. In 1951 he modernized the drive in with a two way communications system and also changed the name to Jack in the Box. From that the chain grew into more than 2,100 locations today mostly on the west coast, but also scattered around the country. Like others they also suffered a number of closures because of the pandemic.


6. In-n-Out Burger – This chain began in 1948 by Harry and Esther Snyder in Baldwin Park, California. Known for fresh, never frozen, burgers and fast service the company has never franchised. It is still family owned with location primarily in California, plus Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Texas, Oregon and Colorado. Because of pandemic rules regarding vaccinations in California, the chain is being wooed to move their operations to Florida.

5. Dunkin’ Donuts – William Rosenberg had an idea for something people would like coffee and donuts, a place called Open Kettle in Quincy, Mass. in 1948. In 1950 with success building he changed the name to Dunkin Donuts and from then the restaurant began its growth. Today, under the newest name “Dunkin” there are 9,000 units in the U.S. and another 3,000 worldwide. Even with the pandemic this chain did not see major drop offs like others.

4. McDonalds – Before Ray Kroc came along and bought out the McDonald brothers, McDonald’s Bar-B-Q had opened in California in 1948 and was doing well. It was 1955 when everything changed and it became the burger chain we all know today. Today there are more than 38,000 units worldwide and they are the second largest private employer with more than 2.1 million employees. And all because of a milkshake mixer! Another whose changes because of the pandemic has not really put a dent in their operation.

3. Dairy Queen – The soft serve ice cream was developed in 1938 and in 1940 the very first Dairy Queen was opened in Joliet, Illinois. Dairy Queen was also one of the first to franchise opening 10 stores in 1941 and by 1947 there were 100 locations. Today there are more than over 6,400 stores in more than 25 countries about 4,500 of its stores are in the United States. Today they are also a restaurant under the name of DQ Restaurants. They were hit hard by the pandemic, but have bounced back and even have more DQ Restaurants opening in various parts of the country and world.

2. White Castle – Of all the various fast food chains that have come and gone, this is one of the most iconic, legendary and revered. It all began in Wichita, Kansas in 1921 when Walter Anderson and Billy Ingram invested $700 to open a place with five cent hamburgers and fries, Today there are over 420 stores mostly in the Midwest (but none in Kansas), Kentucky, and Tennessee. There are a few in the New York metropolitan area, Nevada, and two in Shanghai. Thier latest foray was into Florida with a giant White Castle in Orlando.

1.  A & W – This is the oldest fast food chain in the U.S. and celebrates 102 years having begun in 1919 in Lodi, California. Roy Allen began it as a walk up root beer stand. He brought in a partner, Frank Wright, and in 1923 they added hamburgers, fries and a few other things making it a restaurant. But it was, and still is, the cold, frosty mugs of root beer that defined A &W. Today there are about 1.200 A &W units in the U.S. and 10 countries.

There are your Top 10 oldest fast food chains in the U.S. For a lot more information on each of them just go to their company web sites. You will be surprised by some of the information you will find on each of these well known, long standing establishments that are a real part of Americana.

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