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A few weeks back, we heard the alarming news that Panera might be quashing its hometown personality with a cold corporate rebrand. The fast casual chain somewhat confusingly (but also endearingly) operates as St. Louis Bread Co. within the city of St. Louis, Missouri, where it was founded, and there was a suspicion that all remaining Bread Co.–branded locations were becoming Paneras. Luckily, the Riverfront Times assured us that the rumor turned out not to be true—but it got us thinking about another chain that famously goes by two different names: Checkers and Rally’s. Will these beloved spots ever collapse under one banner?
Are Checkers and Rally’s the same restaurant?
Checkers and Rally’s are a chain of drive-in restaurants serving up the fare you’d expect from a place with red neon signage: burgers, hot dogs, ice cream treats, and ridiculously good french fries. However, if you grew up with one of these Americana joints in your area, you might not even know that it goes by a different name elsewhere.
The two restaurants were once entirely separate entities under different ownership. They were founded right around the same time—Rally’s in 1984, Checkers in 1986—and each swiftly went through the motions of pretty much any successful fast food chain. Rally’s started absorbing other drive-thru brands while Checkers started expanding outside the Mobile, Alabama area.
Though the restaurants remained separate throughout the ’90s, they had something of a symbiotic relationship in the drive-in space. Some Checkers locations were leased by Rally’s, and the companies entered a management agreement in 1997, after Rally’s had been purchased by the parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s—another brand that understands how to operate under two names simultaneously.
The full merger of the Checkers and Rally’s brands was announced in 1999 and completed in 2000. Ever since then, customers have been able to visit their local Rally’s or Checkers, but they’re exactly the same restaurant with the same menu. The only difference might be that some locations are grandfathered in with dining room seating, while the brand no longer builds locations with any.
Will Checkers and Rally’s ever operate under the same name?
It’s always more impressive than it should be when a brand avoids a potentially obvious streamlining move, so I admit I’m surprised that the two brands have stayed distinct over the last 20-plus years—especially because, with nearly 900 locations, that’s a lot of signage to consider. I asked the company about its strategy of maintaining two names for the same restaurant.
“The company has no plans in place to rebrand under one name,” Checkers & Rally’s tells The Takeout. “They continue to witness strong customer loyalty to each brand name as they expand across the East and West Coast.”
Strong customer loyalty—the white whale of the fast food industry. We can’t fault Checkers & Rally’s for prioritizing it at all costs. Sure, it might be momentarily confusing for a few stray diners here and there (such as when I moved to a new city and thought Checkers was dealing with some serious copyright infringement), but for those who have spent nearly 40 years building an affinity for one brand or the other, it’s a small comfort. And fast food is in the business of selling us small comforts anyway it knows how.