Famous Restaurant Names and Their Stories

Woman serving food at a McDonald's drive-thru in Beijing

Guang Niu / Getty Images

What’s in a name? Well, a great deal when it comes to restaurants. Naming a restaurant is like naming a child. You want it to be perfect. You want it to represent your concept and brand and stand out from the competition. You also want your restaurant name to be memorable and unique. Here are some famous restaurant names to help get you started with brainstorming.

The Bag Lady — Savannah, Georgia

Before Paula Deen became the Southern Belle of the Food Network and her subsequent fall from grace, she was known as the Bag Lady. Or at least that was what her catering business was originally called. She began her career selling bagged lunches to local offices in Savannah. Paula’s first restaurant was christened The Lady. When she expanded into a new location in downtown Savannah and her two sons stepped up to help her out, she called the new place The Lady & Sons.

Chez Panisse Café — Berkley, California

Chez Panisse is known as the birthplace of modern California cuisine and helped start a movement for restaurants to use fresh, local ingredients. Co-founder Alice Waters named the café after a character in a film trilogy by Marcel Pagnol (who was a French novelist, playwright, and filmmaker). Chez Panisse is a restaurant legend and was number 20 on Restaurant Magazine’s Best Restaurants in the World. 

The French Laundry — Napa Valley, California

The French Laundry, in Napa Valley, California, is one of the countries most esteemed restaurants. Its name stems from the fact the restaurant building once housed a French steam laundry during the 19th century. The building was also once a brothel, but the restaurant owners stayed away from incorporating that name.

Spago — Los Angeles, California

Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck called his earliest restaurant Spago, which is Italian slang for spaghetti. Little in the name would tell you that it serves a fusion of Mediterranean and California cuisine, with a specialty in wood-fired pizzas.

Chipotle Mexican Grill

Some of the most iconic chain restaurants have an interesting story to how they got their name, from family names to Moby Dick. Chipotle Mexican Grill Founder, Steve Ells, came up with the name after deciding on a simple restaurant concept based off of traditional mission-style burritos he discovered in San Francisco. Despite objections from friends and family that no one would know what a chipotle was or how to pronounce the name, Ells kept it. Today, Chipotle Mexican Grill is a leader in the realm of fast-casual restaurants, revolutionizing the American casual dining experience.


The McDonald brothers founded the original restaurant in California in 1940. Businessmen Ray Kroc bought a McDonald's franchise in Illinois in 1955 and later purchased the entire corporation, wisely keeping the name. After all, would you want to eat a Big Kroc?

Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut goes back to Wichita, Kansas, in 1958. Pizza Hut founders Dan and Frank Carney chose the name in the simplest way: money. Or lack thereof. They wanted a name that was short to make the price of the sign cheaper. Do you think it would have been as successful as Pizza Inn?


According to Gordon Bowker, the name Starbucks was inspired by an old mining camp in the Cascades called Starbo. The name Starbo led Bowker to think of the first mate in Moby Dick (naturally, whales and coffee go hand in hand), who was named Starbuck. And voilà, Starbucks was born. Bowker also says that the coffeehouse giant was almost christened Cargo House. 


Wendy’s first opened its doors in 1969, in Dublin, Ohio. Founder Dave Thomas named the burger chain after his daughter, who was nicknamed Wendy. (Her real name was Melinda, but she pronounced it Winda.) The spunky redhead mascot of Wendy’s is also based on Dave’s daughter, Melinda.