Restaurants you never realized were the same chain

Heading into a restaurant or a fast food establishment, each individual company presents a unique experience. Whether you're heading into Arby's for its beloved curly fries, going to IHOP for a signature short stack, or planning a family get-together with dinner (and plenty of breadsticks) at Olive Garden, you know that each of those chains offers something specific to the dining experience.

And while many restaurants indeed operate on their own, there is a multitude of brands that are actually owned and operated by the same parent company. The parent company may not be well-known, putting the name of the chain front and center, but there are certainly a few surprising pairs out there. We decided to dig into these restaurant partnerships and the results are sure to throw you through you for a loop. While some are complete opposites that you would never see together, others choose to join locations and operate under the same roof for a co-branded experience. These are the restaurants you never realized were the same chain. 

Auntie Anne's and Cinnabon

Walking through the mall, it's pretty difficult to ignore the wafting smells of sweet cinnamon buns. And it's hard to imagine that a company that started as the small operation of a father-and-son duo has turned into such a popular staple. Opening the first location in Seattle, Washington in 1985, Cinnabon has since gained a cult following across the U.S. and in more than 50 countries around the world.

On the other end of the mall, the smell of freshly baked soft pretzels coming from Auntie Anne's, from simple salted to garlic parmesan, is hard to ignore. And while it may seem that these two common shopping mall snack staples are competitors, they actually live harmoniously under one company.

Both Cinnabon and Auntie Anne's live under Focus Brands, after the parent company purchased Auntie Anne's in 2010. But there are certainly plenty of other popular eateries in the same family. Jamba Juice, Carvel, Schlotzsky's, McAlister's Deli, and Moe's Southwest Grill all share a piece of the family pie as well. And with all of those brands in the mix, Focus Brands is one of the largest global foodservice brands, operating over 6,000 establishments over 50 different countries. 

Applebee's and IHOP

Heading into an IHOP, whether it's for breakfast or dinner, a diner knows they can always order a short stack of pancakes. Other options such as omelets, sandwiches, and even a roasted turkey entrée are on the menu as well, making IHOP one of the most diverse casual eateries out there. Pancakes at 10 p.m.? You bet! Seriously, you can get anything to eat at any time of day.

Another casual eatery in the neighborhood, Applebee's, has been around since 1980, serving up everything from wings and burgers to salads and seafood. And while both eateries boast a casual come-as-you-are atmosphere, they don't have much in common other than their parent company.

Applebee's and IHOP live under the same company, Dine Brands, after the investor completed the acquisition of Applebee's International Inc. for $2.1 billion in 2007. Those are the only two restaurants operating under their umbrella, but collectively, the global company operates over 3,600 locations between the two brands.

Red Lobster and California Pizza Kitchen

While Red Lobster has long been known for its seafood options, from lobster to endless shrimp and crab, but let's be honest here, it may be those cheddar bay biscuits that really get you going back for more. The first Red Lobster opened in 1968 as founder Bill Darden hoped to bring great seafood to everyone in a convenient, affordable way. The concept caught on, and restaurant guests have been enjoying copious amounts of seafood ever since.

As guests munched on cheddar biscuits, the chain caught the attention of Golden Gate Capital, and the parent company purchased Red Lobster for $2.1 billion in 2014. The sale was the latest feather in the parent company's cap, adding the chain alongside California Pizza Kitchen, which it had purchased in 2011. Since then, the private holding company also added family-style restaurant chain Bob Evans under its belt in 2017.

Arby's and Jimmy John's

Arby's was founded on the mission of serving up something quick and delicious that wasn't your same-old fast food burger. It was time for something different, and when the first location opened in 1964, it was all about serving up freshly sliced roast beef, paired with delicious toppings and sides like their famous curly fries. Oddly enough, Arby's ended up pairing up with Wendy's International in 2008, but it wasn't a relationship that lasted especially long. Arby's eventually split from Wendy's and was acquired by its parent company Roark Capital, which eventually founded Inspire Brands in 2018.

Inspire Brands ended up adding another sandwich maker to their line-up, purchasing Jimmy John's in 2019. But Inspire Brands' reach certainly doesn't stop there. The parent company also owns Buffalo Wild Wings and Rusty Taco, along with Sonic, which it acquired in 2018 for $2.3 billion. Now, the parent company boasts over 11,000 restaurants in 16 countries. 

Taco Bell and Pizza Hut

It's close to midnight and you have a ridiculous craving for tacos. So, what do you do? Head to the Taco Bell drive-thru, of course. Taco Bell has been our ride or die for quick, craveable food for more than 50 years, but who knew this fast food giant was in such good company with another delicious staple?

Taco Bell is just one of Yum! Brands' global companies, with Pizza Hut and KFC right by its side. And while each restaurant had its own humble beginnings, the trio came together to form Tricon Global Restaurants, or Yum! Brands Inc., and was traded for the first time on the New York Stock Exchange in 1997. Some locations have continued to operate on their own, but it's not uncommon to see co-branded Taco Bell and KFC locations. 

Another member was added to the family in 2020 when Yum! Brands purchased Habit Burger Grill, a fast-casual restaurant boasting chargrilled burgers and sandwiches, for $375 million. Talk about a delicious combination of restaurants. 

Burger King and Tim Hortons

What exactly does the burger giant known for its flame-grilled menu items and a Canadian donut and coffee drink chain have in common? Quite a bit it seems.

Tim Hortons, opened in 1964, is Canada's largest restaurant chain, with a focus on coffee drinks, baked goods, and sandwiches. Home to The Whopper, Burger King was established in 1954, serving up their signature burgers and fries. But in 2014, the two beloved chains began operating under the same ownership, Restaurant Brands International, and now, the restaurant company has close to 26,000 restaurants under their scope, spanning over 100 countries.

But Timmy's and Burger King aren't the only brands under Restaurant Brands International's purview. Popeye's, established in New Orleans in 1972 was added to the family as well. According to Nation's Restaurant News, the company purchased Popeyes in 2017 and snatched up the popular fried chicken chain for $1.8 billion with plans for plenty of future growth.

Panera Bread and Krispy Kreme

Walk into a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop, and you can immediately smell that signature scent of freshly glazed doughnuts. Opening its doors in 1937, the doughnut chain has been well-known for serving up warm confections right off the conveyor belt or boxed up by the dozen. And perhaps that's the allure that restaurant company JAB Holding Company found in 2016 when it acquired the Krispy Kreme brand for $1.35 billion.

As it turns out, though, one company devoted to baked goods just wasn't enough for JAB Holding. In 2017, the restaurant group acquired the popular soup and salad fast casual chain Panera Bread Company in a deal that closed for $7.5 billion. Panera Bread joined the other brands under JAB Holding's umbrella including Peet's Coffee & Tea, Caribou Coffee, and Einstein Bagels. Certainly, as you look at it, the acquisition makes sense as JAB Holdings rounds out its happy family of coffee and baked goods focused brands.

Quizno's and Taco Del Mar

The idea of being able to order exactly what you'd like to have on a sandwich and have it prepared right in front of you is certainly not a new concept. Quizno's has been making sandwiches that way since 1981 and adds in the tasty element of toasting your sandwich as it goes down the line.

Meanwhile, Taco Del Mar offers up the same concept with a different type of cuisine. Launching in Seattle, Washington in 1992, Taco Del Mar Americanized Mexican food, offering guests the option to order at the counter. Guests were able to choose their type of meat and beans, along with their toppings and sauces, watching their burrito or taco salad being made right in front of them.

High Bluff Capital purchased Quizno's in 2018, but the acquisition wasn't enough for the company at the time. Right after the deal went through, Taco Del Mar caught the investment company's eye just one month later. The firm purchased Taco Del Mar in July of 2018, taking over its 100 locations throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse

When you think of Olive Garden, it's probably breadsticks that come to mind, and we're talking a ridiculous amount of warm, delicious breadsticks that you can eat alongside your meal and then take some home for later. You may also think about their signature salad and soups, oh, and pasta too. And we owe our thanks to Darden Restaurants Inc. for owning and operating that favorite family dinner spot. 

But Olive Garden certainly isn't the only restaurant under the Darden Restaurants umbrella. Longhorn Steakhouse, known for its bold flavors with dishes from steaks and ribs to salads, was acquired by the restaurant company in 2007. The purchase for $1.19 billion, which included the sale of LongHorn Steakhouse and The Capital Grille, added to Darden's existing portfolio at the time of Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants. As we mentioned, Red Lobster eventually made its way to Golden Gate Capital in 2014, but Darden still held on to Olive Garden, while in good company with Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen, Yard House, Seasons 52, Bahama Breeze, and Eddie V's.

Maggiano's Little Italy and Chili's Grill and Bar

Chili's has had a longtime reputation for their giant margaritas and killer happy hour deals. The casual eatery has attracted guests since 1975, offering a great hangout spot paired with a menu boasting everything from burgers and fajitas to wings, with a focus on bold flavors with a hint of southwestern flair. However, it's safe to say that their most prominent claim to fame is their ribs, thanks to that ever-popular baby back ribs jingle that would inevitably get stuck in your head for hours on end. 

Maggiano's Little Italy, on the other hand, has developed a reputation for offering family-style Italian-American meals such as eggplant parmesan and rigatoni arrabbiata since the restaurant first opened in 1991. Just four years after Maggiano's opened, and with only four restaurants under its operation at the time, it caught the eye of Brinker International. Brinker purchased the restaurant in 1995 and would add the eatery to its operations of Chili's locations. Brinker International now operates over 1,600 restaurants that span throughout 29 countries. 

Baskin-Robbins and Dunkin' Donuts

Baskin-Robbins has been a household name in the ice cream business for decades. In 1945, when most ice cream shops were sticking to the classics like chocolate and vanilla, Irv Robbins and Burt Baskins were dreaming up ways to offer a flavor every single person would enjoy. Low and behold, 31 (and then some) flavors later, and more than 70 years under their belt, Baskin-Robbins is still going strong. With more than 1,300 flavors over the years, from Jamoca Almond Fudge and Rum Raisin to Green Tea, Baskin-Robbins certainly accomplished offering a flavor choice for every type of ice cream lover. 

Opening just five years later is Baskin-Robbins' delicious cousin, Dunkin' Donuts. The brand, which in addition to pastries, also serves hot breakfast sandwiches and a wide variety of coffee drinks, has been delivering caffeine and sugar to Americans on the morning commute since 1950.

The two live under the same Dunkin' Brands company name and reach customers through their more than 20,000 locations spanning 60 countries. Some stores stand on their own, while many are co-branded offering a one-stop-shop for donuts, coffee, and ice cream under one magical roof.

Outback Steakhouse and Bonefish Grill

Think about Outback Steakhouse, and what first comes to mind? For many, it's their signature dish, the Bloomin' Onion, paired with their Aussie-inspired entrees such as grilled chicken or steak. It's a spot to go for a variety of menu items with great portion sizes and a casual atmosphere. And for Outback's parent company, Bloomin' Brands, that is exactly the dining experience they aimed to create when four friends came together to open a restaurant in the '80s.

Aptly named, Bloomin' Brands opened their first restaurant, Outback Steakhouse, in Florida in 1988. Now, the company boasts over 1,450 various restaurants worldwide as Bloomin' Brands continued to introduce new and unique concepts over the years.

Bonefish Grill was eventually added to their portfolio as Bloomin' Brands aimed to bring a fresh seafood experience to the dining scene. But those weren't the only two restaurants that the original group of friends launched. The Bloomin' Brands company also owns and operates Carrabba's Italian Grill, Fleming's, and Aussie Grill, a fast food spin-off of Outback Steakhouse. 

Dairy Queen and Orange Julius

For decades, ice cream fans have flocked to Dairy Queen for their frozen treats like dipped cones and the signature Dilly Bar and Blizzard. The franchise devoted to quick-service food, with ice cream for dessert, has been prominent in the lives of countless families since the first store opened in 1940.

In 1926, Orange Julius developed its signature recipe as Julius Freed and Bill Hamlin worked to find a solution to making blended orange juice less acidic. The company skyrocketed as Orange Julius launched a variety of easily accessible fruit smoothies, spinning off of the original orange smoothie to include flavors like berry pomegranate and strawberry banana along the way.

As both companies grew, Dairy Queen took note of Orange Julius and purchased the brand in 1987. At the time, Orange Julius became a subsidiary of International Dairy Queen, but many of their locations continued to operate on their own. Now, it's common to see the two treat stops under the same roof, and in 2012 Dairy Queen rolled out the Orange Julius line at all of their U.S. and Canadian locations.

Chuck E. Cheese and Qdoba

What exactly do a burrito joint and a children's entertainment hotspot have in common? Not a whole lot, except that they happen to be part of the same big happy family. 

Established in 1977, Chuck E. Cheese was the brainchild of Nolan Bushnell, who co-founded Atari. The pizza joint turned into a family-friendly spot for eats, games, and plenty of birthday parties over the years. In 2014, Apollo Global Management decided it needed a slice of the pie, purchasing the chain for $950 million. 

Not quite as old as its surprising cousin, Qdoba launched under the name Zuma Fresh Mexican Grill in 1995, only to later be renamed to Qdoba Mexican Grill in 1999. In 2003, Jack in the Box purchased Qdoba, but the relationship didn't work out, leading Apollo to step in and purchase the chain for $305 million in 2018. Oddly enough, the two restaurant chains aren't in good company with any other restaurant brands, but Apollo's portfolio does include major companies such as gourmet supermarket chain The Fresh Market, along with ADT Security Services.