4 once-popular Tex-Mex chains that went out of business

With popular restaurant chains like Chipotle, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Qdoba, Taco Bell, Baja Fresh, Chuy’s, and Del Taco, it’s clear that Tex-Mex is a cuisine that’s here to stay. Though some taco purists prefer dining at authentic Mexican restaurants to an Americanized Tex-Mex experience, numerous restaurant chains like this continue to thrive across the country.

But while Tex-Mex chains like this have had plenty of success in recent years, some have not been so lucky. Here are four once-popular Tex-Mex restaurants that have gone out of business and closed their doors.

Chi Chi
Courtesy of KXRB

Chi-Chi’s is no more, which will come as no surprise as you learn more about this restaurant. This chain was founded in Minnesota in the 1970s by Marno McDermott, who had previously founded a fast food chain called Zapata Foods.

At first, Chi-Chi’s saw resounding success. In fact, the company’s revenue grew to over $2 million within the first year. Much of their immediate success can be attributed to the fact that there weren’t many foods of this type to be found in Minnesota at the time, so customers flocked in to experience this cuisine.

The company continued to experience booming success in the early 1980s, but by the mid-’80s the company was starting to outgrow its pants a little. By 1986, the company had 200 open locations across the country, but due to market changes and an inability to create a healthy business environment as they expanded, they saw Chi-Chi’s profitability decline.

According to Mashed, another problem for the chain arose as more and more Mexican immigrants moved to the United States, bringing their own food and culture with them. As more and more people in the US were introduced to authentic Mexican food, the desire for non-authentic chains like Chi-Chi’s began to dwindle. At the end of the 1980s, the restaurant was bought by Foodmaker Inc., but eventually stores closed again and again in the USA.

In 2003, a horrific outbreak of hepatitis A with over 650 confirmed cases and a total of four deaths was traced to a Chi-Chi’s site in Monaca, Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC confirmed that it came from spring onions, which are used in many of the restaurant’s recipes. Not surprisingly, this was the drop that broke the camel’s back and closed Chi-Chi. Unfortunately for the chain, they still had to pay over $40 million in settlements related to the hepatitis outbreak.

Don Pablos

Don Pablo’s is another Mexican-inspired restaurant chain that had a good run for a while but eventually had to close its doors. The story of Don Pablo, while not as dramatic as the story of Chi-Chi, is nonetheless sad.

The chain opened its doors in 1985 in Lubbock, Texas. Following Tom DuPree’s acquisition through Avado Brands in the mid-1990s, Don Pablo’s quickly became one of the company’s most successful restaurants, having grown to 120 locations nationwide. Unfortunately, Avado’s success could not keep up with the growing market and the company declared bankruptcy in 2004. Don Pablo’s was still fighting for his life, but they had now shrunk to just 45 locations. In 2014, the chain was acquired by Rita Restaurant Corp. and Food Management Partners, but could not last much longer. In 2017 they filed for bankruptcy and in 2019 the last and last store in New Jersey closed its doors.

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Pup 'n' Taco
Valley Relics Museum 501c3/Facebook

The concept of the Pup ‘N’ Taco fast food chain was certainly unique, combining popular tacos with other dishes such as hamburgers, hot dogs, and a variety of sandwiches.

The chain first opened in 1965 and had 62 stores nationwide by 1973. They continued to expand in the mid-’80s, but Taco Bell bought out various Pup ‘N’ Taco locations. Apparently, about three stores stayed in Albuquerque, New Mexico for quite a while, even renaming themselves “Pop ‘N’ Taco.” However, by the mid-2010s, these locations had each permanently closed.

Casa bonita
Casa Bonita Denver/Facebook

Casa Bonita was once a thriving Tex-Mex restaurant chain that was born in Denver, Colorado. However, this chain was known as more than just a restaurant. In addition to delicious food, customers could enjoy attractions such as an indoor waterfall. But what really put Casa Bonita on the cultural map was its appearance in 2003 South Park Episode aptly named “Casa Bonita”. But even though this restaurant chain was a Tex-Mex sensation, it couldn’t survive.

According to Restaurant Hospitality, Casa Bonita closed its doors in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and has not reopened since. Then, in April 2021, Casa Bonita filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. But even a local group of passionate fans banded together under the name Save Casa Bonita wasn’t enough to restore power to the chain. Eventually it was sold out of bankruptcy South Park Creators Matt Stone and Trey Park in late 2021.

Although there have been tentative talks about the potential for a remodel and eventual reopening, it’s difficult to say what that is South Park Creators will take a stab at the restaurant going forward as Casa Bonita appears to be closed as of today. Die-hard Casa Bonita fans will have to wait and see. But hopefully they’ll be able to return to their favorite haunt of Tex-Mex nostalgia one day soon.


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