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Chicago Has an Olive Garden, So Why Not an In-N-Out Burger or Tim Hortons?

By Tanveer Ali | October 1, 2014 5:20am | Updated on October 2, 2014 10:50am
 Some restaurant chains not in Chicago: In-N-Out Burger, Whataburger, Jack in the Box and Tim Hortons
Some restaurant chains not in Chicago: In-N-Out Burger, Whataburger, Jack in the Box and Tim Hortons
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DNAinfo/Tanveer Ali, flickr/texasmarkers, flickr/pleeker, flickr/elsiehui

CHICAGO — On Monday, Chicago's first Olive Garden, an Italian chain restaurant nationally known for its breadsticks, opened in Avondale. While the restaurant seems ubiquitous in the suburbs, it was an event for Chicago, with Gov. Pat Quinn popping in for an appearance.

Culver's, a Wisconsin chain known for its "ButterBurgers," debuts next spring in Wrigleyville, the first of what the company says will be multiple Chicago restaurants. In May, Chicago's first Sonic Drive-In started serving up frozen drinks in Uptown.

But many other well-known chain restaurants — including those that plenty of city residents have been known to crave — aren't here.

The reason is likely very simple: money.

Tanveer Ali breaks down why many national chains choose to stay out of Chicago:

"Very often, the reason why brands aren't moving into the city are because the demand isn't strong enough for that type of product and the rent tends to be much higher," according to Darren Tristano, a restaurant industry analyst with Chicago-based Technomic.

In the cases of several chains that aren't in Chicago, but count some residents among their fans, the reasons for their absence get very specific.

Here's what we found out about some of those chains, why they aren't here and if they are ever coming:

Steak 'n Shake

Closest location: Evanston, 11 miles from Downtown Chicago

Famous for its steakburgers, Steak 'n Shake also happens to serve Chicago-style footlong hot dogs. Just not in Chicago yet.

But local managers of the restaurant say that the company has been looking at locations in Chicago for a Steak 'n Shake Signature restaurant, which is a quick-service version of the original restaurant.

Nothing's official yet.

• Tim Hortons

Closest location: Holland, Michigan, 98 miles

The doughnut and coffee chain synonymous with Canada has expansions planned for Fort Wayne, Indiana, and the St. Louis area, but not Chicago, according to spokeswoman Brynn Burton.

"We do not have locations in Chicago and do not have any immediate plans to do so," she wrote in an email.

Chicago's already got hundreds of Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks locations, so Tim Hortons could be hurting for attention if it rushes in, Tristano said.

As with Culver's, which made a name for itself in Wisconsin and Chicago's suburbs before wanting to enter the city, Tim Hortons is just waiting for its moment, Tristano said.

"The saturation of Dunkin and Starbucks is so heavy they are not necessarily avoiding it, but branding it. As they come in around the city, they will build awareness of the brand," Tristano said.

In-N-Out Burger

Closest location: Allen, Texas, 899 miles

For those who crave the burgers, fries and shakes from this West Coast chain, we've got bad news. In-N-Out Burger's not coming to Chicago anytime soon.

"We do grow pretty slowly and steadily here at In-N-Out Burger, and we hope to get there someday, just not in the near-term future," said Carl Van Fleet, vice president of planning and development at the California burger chain.

One of the biggest reasons that In-N-Out hasn't set up shop in the Midwest is because its restaurants only open within 500 miles of its distribution centers.

"That makes Chicago too far away for the time being," Van Fleet said.

Jack in the Box

Closest location: Indianapolis, 155 miles

During the 1970s, the city was home to 20 Jack in the Box locations, a hamburger chain with roots in California.

The company chose to shut those restaurants down in 1980, opting to focus on developing restaurants in the Southwestern United States, and hasn't come back, said company spokesman Brian Luscomb.

"We love Chicago, and we would love to return to the area," Luscomb said, adding "we do not have any near-term plans for the area."

Luscomb said that if someone came forward in Chicago willing to buy Jack in the Box franchises, the company would likely come back and start serving its Jumbo Jack burger.

• Denny's

Closest location: Oak Park, 10 miles

A Denny's spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment about why the diner seemingly everywhere else in America isn't here.

Tristano said that Denny's only does well when its restaurants have a continuous stream of customers from breakfast to late night. Given how expensive retail space is in Chicago, there are few options for Denny's within the city.

"A brand like Denny's is going to look for close to 24 hours of access," Tristano said.

• Whataburger

Closest location: Birmingham, Alabama, 659 miles

This was always a long shot, but a spokesman with the Texas hamburger chain said the Midwest, let alone Chicago, isn't in its future.

“Whataburger is pleased so many of our fans in the Chicago area crave our quality food," said James Turcotte, the company's senior vice president of real estate. "While we have no current plans to expand outside of our 10-state region, we hope Chicagoans who may be traveling near one of our markets will stop by and enjoy our fresh, made-to-order burgers."

Other national and regional chains that aren't in Chicago (and whose representatives did not respond to requests for comment) include:

• Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Elk Grove Village, 20 miles

The southern doughnut chain had at least two locations in the city, including at 175 W. Jackson Blvd. and at 4455 S. Pulaski, but they closed just a few years after they opened after the company had financial problems.

• Cracker Barrel, Hammond, 23 miles

• Waffle House, Pendleton, Indiana, 167 miles

Which restaurant chain do you want to come to Chicago? Post a comment below.

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