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Leisure Spending

Whatever Happened to Chi-Chi's Restaurants?

A deadly hepatitis A outbreak devastated the chain in the U.S., but locations remain overseas.

Courtesy Nicholas Eckhart via Flickr/CC 2.0

The home of the chimichanga and fried ice cream, Chi-Chi's was big on spicy food, from salsa and nachos to everything else Americans thought of as Tex-Mex food. Created by former Green Bay Packers star Max McGee and restaurateur Marno McDermit, it launched in 1975 in the unlikeliest of places for a Mexican food chain: downtown Minneapolis.

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The timing was perfect, with Mexican food a trendy choice for diners at that time. Chi-Chi's took off, growing to 237 locations by 1986. But increased competition and a slew of unfortunate events spelled the chain's demise: The number of location slipped to 144 by 2002; Chi-Chi's filed for bankruptcy in 2003; and a month after that filing, tainted green onions imported from Mexico and served at a Chi-Chi's near Pittsburgh caused a hepatitis A outbreak that sickened 636 people and killed four.

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The U.S. chain never recovered, though there are Chi-Chi's restaurants in Europe, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. And you can still find Chi-Chi's-branded products, owned by Hormel, in supermarkets.

Learn the fates of 13 more classic restaurant chains including Steak and Ale, Beefsteak Charlie's and Bennigan's.