Details You Didn't Know About Bonanza Steakhouse

Even if you're not familiar with the trials and tribulations of the Cartwright family, chances are Bonanza Steakhouse conjures up images of the old west. Named for the long-running Western series, Bonanza, the chain of restaurants was founded by cast member Dan Blocker who played Eric "Hoss" Cartwright  (via MeTV). Blocker ran with the Western theme, opening the first location in a former bus station in Westport, Connecticut in 1963. The original spot was called the Bonanza Sirloin Pit and Restaurant-ing Through History got their hands on a vintage menu. Wallet-friendly fare was the focus from the beginning. For just 99 cents, diners could choose from a steak dinner, a giant steak sandwich, or a chopped sirloin steak platter, and Bonanza promised that a family of five could eat "heartily" for less than $6. Signage for the early Bonanza Sirloin Pits advertised casual dining ("Come as you are") and a no-tipping policy.

According to Lexico, the word 'bonanza' describes "a situation or event that creates a sudden increase in wealth, good fortune, or profits," and that's exactly what happened for Blocker's burgeoning restaurant empire. Bonanza grew into a small chain in the first three years it was opened and was then purchased by brothers Sam and Charles Wyly in the mid-1960s. The Wylys grew the chain to 600 locations and then sold it in 1989 (via D Magazine).

Competition between Bonanza and Ponderosa was fierce

During the 1960s, another chain of Western-themed steakhouses was emerging. Ponderosa, named for the fictional ranch where Bonanza was set, was founded by Dan Lasater and Norm Wiese. According to Funding Universe, the business partners were inspired to get into the affordable steak game after learning of Bonanza's success. The competition between the chains was fierce, so much so that when Bonanza corporate heard about Ponderosa's plan to get in the affordable steak game, they trademarked the Ponderosa name. In an interview, Lasater recalls, "We were pretty upset, but I got to wondering how smart they really were ... They hadn't [trademarked their own name]. So I went down and trademarked Bonanza, and we swapped off with them."

But the competition between the two rivals eventually came to an end. The chains merged in 1989, creating a combined total of 1,315 locations worldwide (via Dayton Daily News). These days, the chain's numbers aren't as robust. To date, the current count of Bonanza and Ponderosa restaurants is just 64, with locations spread over the U.S., Puerto Rico, Taiwan, and the Middle East. The future of Bonanza remains to be seen but according to 24/7 Wall Street, it's not looking great. They placed Bonanza at number nine on their list of America's disappearing chain restaurants.