“The Gambler” singer Kenny Rogers in 1991 linked with former
Kentucky Gov. (and KFC owner) John Y. Brown to found Kenny
Rogers Roasters. But true to his lyric, Mr. Rogers knew when to fold
‘em: In 1998, the company filed for bankruptcy. Nathan’s Famous
bought the ill-fated Kenny Rogers Roasters and in 2008 sold the
entire chain to its Asian franchiser, Berjaya Group, for $4 million.
That turned out to be a rather savvy deal. Total revenue for the
last fiscal year was over $100 million, according to a recent Time
article. There are roughly 140 locations in Asia, including in
Malaysia and the Philippines, as well a handful of
locations in Beijing. The chain is slated to begin
opening stores in China in September. Stateside,
Mr. Rogers’ chicken run hasn’t been nearly as
successful: A single outlet still stands in the
U.S., in Ontario, Calif.
NOW-RARE U.S. BRANDS
BY MAUREEN MORRISON firstname.lastname@example.org
Massive U.S. restaurant chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King and
KFC have thousands of thriving locations outside the U.S. But some
smaller chains that have diminished or nearly disappeared in the U.S.
also enjoy a robust presence abroad. Here we list a few chains you may
remember—or still see stateside—that are flourishing overseas.
Well-known for its mascot—a chubby boy in red-and-white
checkered overalls—Bob’s Big Boy was founded by Bob Wian
as a hamburger stand in 1936 in Glendale, Calif. Mr. Wian
expanded the chain through a franchise agreement that
gave franchisees flexibility to customize their restaurants—
even the name. Among some of franchisees were Dave
Frisch, whose Frisch’s Big Boy became a separate company,
and Alex Schoenbaum of Shoney’s. Mr. Wian in 1967 sold the
chain, which by then had about 600 units, to Marriott Corp.
Big Boy reportedly struggled under Marriott. Elias Brothers
Corp., a franchisee at the time, bought the rights to Big Boy in
1987, but in 2000 the chain filed for bankruptcy.
Post-bankruptcy, the chain overhauled restaurant designs
and menu items, and still operates about 137 locations in the
U.S., according to Big Boy’s website, mostly in Michigan, where
the company is headquartered, and in the Los Angeles area.
But its heftiest presence is in Japan, where operations are
helmed by Zensho Group, with nearly 265 locations.
Founded in 1972 in North Miami by the
restaurant’s eponymous founder, Tony
Roma’s was just one location until
Texas financier and Dallas cowboys
owner Clint Murchison Jr. in 1976
bought the majority of the U.S.
franchise rights and formed a jointly
owned company, Roma Corp. The
chain opened its first franchised
location in Japan in 1979, and followed
with its first domestic franchise in Beverly
Hills, Calif., in 1982. The chain, while never
amassing a huge presence in the U.S., is
known for its baby-back ribs, and now has
more than 200 locations in 17 states and 33
countries. About 75% of the locations are outside
the U.S., including units in Aruba, Peru, Chile, the
Dominican Republic, Guam, Ecuador, Singapore,
Thailand, Germany, Bahrain and more.
Founded in 1979 by Ed and Gloria Jean
Kvetko outside of Chicago, Gloria Jean’s
Coffees in the mid-‘80s began franchising
stores. At the end of 2010, the company
still operated about 87 U.S. locations,
many mall-based, but what’s impressive is
its international presence: It now has
more than 900 stores—roughly 460 of
them in Australia—in 35 countries
including Cambodia, Kuwait, Pakistan,
Turkey and Singapore.