Trader Vic's

A new restaurant opens in San Francisco nearly every day, and it’s hardly ever part of a chain. While everyone’s on the lookout for the newest pop-up, food truck or Michelin star restaurant, chain restaurants are often over-looked or reserved for last-ditch efforts to find food while shopping in Union Square.

But here’s a fun fact: several national chains actually have humble beginnings in and around San Francisco. There are several that remain confined to the Bay Area, such as La Boulange, Three Twins Ice-Cream and Hobee’s, but here’s a look at five restaurants that started here and now span the U S of A.

Chevys Fresh Mex: Founded in Alameda in 1981

Chevys was founded by father-and-son team Warren Simmon, Sr. and Warren “Scooter” Simmon, Jr. and grew quickly to 37 restaurants across California by 1993, when it was purchased by PepsiCo. The Mexican-style casual dining chain isn’t as hot as it once was, having filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2003, but you can still find two locations in San Francisco and several more around the Bay Area.

Chevys Fresh Mex, 201 3rd Street and 3251 20th Avenue, San Francisco

Trader Vic’s: Founded in Oakland in 1934

The Polynesian-themed restaurant was founded by Victor Jules Bergeron, Jr., who also claimed to be the inventor of the Mai-Tai cocktail. Trader Vic’s was originally called Hinky Dink’s but was renamed as it gained popularity (good call). There are eight recipe and story books bearing the Trader Vic’s name which were written between the 1940s and 1970s. The original Oakland location closed in 1972; the Emeryville location is now considered its flagship restaurant.

Trader Vic’s, 9 Anchor Drive, Emeryville and 4261 El Camino Real, Palo Alto

Mrs. Fields: Founded in Palo Alto in 1977

Debbi (Syver) Fields got her start in cookie-making at 13 when she was a “ball girl” for the Oakland A’s. She saved her $5-per-hour stipend to buy ingredients for the cookies. At 20, she opened Mrs. Fields’ Chocolate Chippery and then began franchising in the 1990s; now there are nearly 400 Mrs. Fields locations across the U.S., plus 80 other countries. The soft and chewy cookies, including the famous Cookie Cakes, can be spotted quite easily at malls and online.

Mrs. Fields, Westfield Shopping Center, 865 Market Steet, San Francisco

Chuck E. Cheese’s: Founded in San Jose in 1977

Originally called Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre, the restaurant is considered the first family restaurant to integrate food, games and of course, Chuck E. The current name was adopted in 1995; there are over 500 restaurants (and equally as many giant dancing mice) nationally. The animated mouse is no surprise, given that founder Nolan Bushnell also began Atari. While you might not look at Chuck E. Cheese as a restaurant, they offer a full menu with pizza and sandwiches, and some locations even offer wine and beer.

Chuck E. Cheese’s, 13 Bay Area locations including San Jose, San Bruno, Hayward and Redwood City

Fresh Choice: Founded in Sunnyvale in 1986

The buffet chain operates as Fresh Choice and Zoopa and offers all-you-can-eat salads, pizzas, hot dishes and desserts. The chain prides itself on being a healthier alternative to fast food and sources local and seasonal produce when possible; in 2009, they embarked on a mission to grow their own vegetables.

Fresh Choice, 17 Bay Area locations including San Bruno, Colma, San Jose, Sunnyvale and Concord

Image courtesy of WikiCommins