5 Chain Restaurants That Define America

5 Chain Restaurants That Define America
This McDonald's in Downey, Calif.,opened in 1953 and is the third and oldest operating McDonald's restaurant. (Kirby Lee via AP)

There are some restaurant chains that many people can live without. (I’m looking at you, Wendy’s…) Maybe if you’re at a rest stop you give one a try, or if you’re desperate for a bite to eat while on vacation, but not all corporate-run establishments are the same. While some serve food that some people will eat, others play an integral part in many people’s lives.

Of course, many of us would love to dine exclusively at mom and pop shops, but that isn’t always possible day-in and day-out. The convenience of a well-placed chain that also offers a good deal and product can be hard to pass up.

We have rounded up a bunch of casual dining establishments that aren’t only extremely lucrative, but also have changed our country, to some extent. These places of business have customers from every socio-economic background, every race, every ethnicity, and from every urban and suburban location from sea to shining sea. These are the chains that define America.

5. Taco Bell

Yo quiero Taco Bell. Guaranteed that this is all the Spanish that many Americans know, and it’s all thanks to a chihuahua in a sombrero. Taco Bell introduced the country to (a very watered-down, deranged version of) Mexican food. If you do the research, very few things on the menu here are even close to authentic, but the restaurant did make tacos, burritos, and nachos standard fare in a country where meatloaf and mashed potatoes were the go-to options for many.

4. Starbucks

When Howard Schultz conceptualized Starbucks, he wanted the coffee shop to be a “third place” for people. He knew that most people spent the majority of their time at home and at work. He hoped Starbucks would fill in any gaps that existed and become the place where people went when they were in between home and the office. And he succeeded. While $7 lattes and highly caloric frozen drinks topped with whipped cream and caramel aren’t for everyone, Starbucks does offer regular coffee, good snacks, and a comfortable place to go (with Wi-Fi) for anything from a date with a friend, to a job interview, to a place to kill time, to a place to get work done. Before Starbucks, where did people even go when their Internet failed? (Oh right, there was no Internet then…)

3. McDonald’s

While dining at McDonald’s isn’t as cost-effective as it was years ago (a Big Mac meal can cost upwards of $9, depending on where you live), the food at Mickey Dees is generally consistent and ubiquitous. Need a quick bite in your car or for a 10-minute pit stop? McDonald’s. Need to calm tantrum-y toddlers and young children? Fries and chicken nuggets at McDonald’s. Need a hot coffee or a quick ice cream fix? You’ll always find a McDonald’s nearby.

2. Domino’s Pizza

Even if Domino’s isn’t currently a part of your weekly pizza routine, there is an excellent chance that it played a huge role in your college experience. First of all, there is no bad pizza. There is excellent pizza, there is good pizza, and then there is pizza. But bad pizza is nearly impossible to come by. For this reason, Domino’s has an incredible business model: make products that no one can truly hate. The chain also made it affordable and fast. (Remember all the accidents those Domino’s drivers were getting into when they were promising pizza in 30 minutes or less?) The pizza that Domino’s churns out is a far cry from the pies you’ll find in Italy. For this reason, Domino’s pizza is as American as apple pie.

1. Dunkin’ Donuts

Coffee on the go. In a world where everyone is on the run, running late, or running out the door, it is no wonder that America “runs on Dunkin’,” as the slogan says. This doughnut shop’s coffee is hot, freshly brewed, consistent from store to store, and very affordable. While the name might suggest that donuts are the bread and butter of the company, they are just a sweet perk. But coffee aside, how American is it to grab a box of Munchkins for a kids party, an office gathering, or a casual get-together? This chain has managed to take comforting, yummy treats and coffee that wake us all up, and put them on nearly every corner and in every rest stop in the country.