Sizzler Restaurant – What Happened?
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There are lots of shrimp and steak lovers out there, but it’s not an indulgence everyone can afford at many restaurants. Sizzler steak houses have offered a cost-effective alternative for families wanting a good meal for more than fifty years.

Sizzler is a U.S.-based restaurant chain that is headquartered in Mission Viejo, California, that was first opened in 1958. Today, it’s one of the most recognizable names on the west coast for salad, seafood, and steaks.

Sizzler king of the grill apron

History of Sizzler

Sizzler Family Steak House was founded in 1958 by Helen and Del Johnson in Culver City, CA. At its peak popularity, the chain operated over 270 locations across America, with most restaurants in western states like California, Oregon, Arizona, Washington, Idaho, and so on.

From the late 1970s to the early ‘80s, Sizzler promoted steak dinners and combination meals with an optional salad bar. The restaurant’s mission was to provide customers with the feel of a full-service restaurant but feature prices just a little higher than fast food.

To cut down on costs, many Sizzlers employed in-house butchers who would grind beef and cut steaks. Their business model worked well until the mid-1980s, when competition began to appear. More specifically, Bonanza Steakhouse and Ponderosa Steakhouse opened and set out to take some of the market shares.

Video: Retro TV commercial for Sizzler restaurants 1978

Sizzler ran many promotions, including an all-you-can-eat fried shrimp deal, before expanding the salad bar into a full-blown buffet known as the “Buffet Court.” Soon, patrons used the buffet as their meal rather than an entree add-on. The restaurant responded by lowering the quality of some menu areas and introducing free grilled cheese bread rolls before dinner. The only problem was that the rolls were meant to line the stomach and curb appetites, and customers quickly noticed the trick, thus, tarnishing their reputation.

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Chapter 11 Bankruptcy & A Sale

In 1996, Sizzler filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy due to the “costly leases on unprofitable restaurants.” This process forced them to close more than 130 locations before reemerging from bankruptcy the following year.

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During the late ‘90s, Sizzler was placed under new management that increased the prices and upgraded the quality of food. As you might imagine, the changes were not well-received, and by 2001, the chain shut down an additional 21 locations.

Sizzler meal

By 2002, Sizzler was in the midst of an image makeover. This led to the creation of a new restaurant concept set around a more open and bright dining room. These upgrades were accompanied by a revamped menu, which made an effort to return Sizzler where it began – offering seafood, steaks, and a salad bar. The all-you-can-eat buffet was phased out at most locations but remained at others.

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In 2005, Sizzler was purchased by Pacific Equity Partners, an investment firm based in Australia. Sizzler USA announced in June 2011 that a U.S. management group would buy the remaining locations in America while Pacific Equity Partners would retain the international ones. Once the deal was finalized, Sizzler moved its headquarters from Culver City to Mission Viejo, where it remains today.

Sizzler Today

Sizzler USA filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy again in 2020, this time citing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic as they had to shut down all dining rooms during lockdowns. They have also had difficulty paying rent, as most of their remaining locations are in areas of California that were heavily affected by COVID-19 and restrictions.

Though you can’t go to Sizzler and buy a $0.99 steak today, you can still enjoy a tasty meal at one of the 88 remaining locations. So, if you find yourself in a western state that’s still home to Sizzler, grab some friends or family and enjoy a delicious Sizzler steak and salad!

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Sizzler – Still Around

Today, there are still some Sizzler restaurants in operation. You can find them by clicking on the map below

Sizzler restaurant finder

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4 responses to “Sizzler Restaurant – What Happened?”

  1. Bill Polkinhorn Avatar
    Bill Polkinhorn

    I Miss it in South Carolina I worked at the one in Anderson SC in High School loved the food they closed the One in Clemson it stayed full all the time wish it come back

  2. Tom Smith Avatar
    Tom Smith

    We always ate at the Sizzler on w 16th St. during Indy 500 Time Trials. You never knew who would be there. It was one of our trip high lights every year.

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  4. […] decided to file for bankruptcy. They claimed they were $297 million in debt. They blamed their financial difficulties on the 2008 recession and the increased costs of cream and high rents along with other […]

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