It's like The Old Spaghetti Factory with a goatee.
May 12, 2008 8:10 AM   Subscribe

What is the deal with Spaghetti Warehouse & The Old Spaghetti Factory?

I went to my first Spaghetti Warehouse yesterday. The similarities to Old Spaghetti Factory were overwhelming. It looks like someone (maybe Robert Hawk or Charles Tandy?) visited an Old Spaghetti Factory on the West Coast, said "hey, what a great idea," went back to Dallas, and built an exact cargo-cult duplicate from memory. Old Spaghetti Factory was founded in 1969, and Spaghetti Warehouse in 1972, so it must have happened not long after Old Spaghetti Factory opened.

The two companies don't appear to be related at all, but the resemblances are too numerous and too exact to be coincidental. For instance:
  • The name: Where does spaghetti goes after it leaves the Old Spaghetti Factory? The Spaghetti Warehouse, of course. (In Canada, it's apparently called The Old Spaghetti Warehouse.)
  • The business strategy: The Old Spaghetti Factory:
    Dussin pioneered the concept of developing restaurant properties in places others considered unworkable. These diamond-in-the-rough locations often are unique and distinctive—even historic—buildings in older warehouse districts where rents are low. As the restaurant's popularity grows, the area begins to improve. Other stores and businesses move in, bringing more people to the area. The Old Spaghetti Factory's traffic goes up, but the rents stay low.
    Spaghetti Warehouse:
    Based in Garland, Texas, the company typically establishes outlets in abandoned factories and warehouses in the downtowns of large metropolitan areas, using any tax assistance for developing an urban downtown property to pay for the facility's conversion to a restaurant.
  • The decor: Both restaurants feature a pseudo-Victorian mismatched aesthetic, with dark wood paneling, and elaborate glass lighting fixtures. Spaghetti Warehouse is done a bit more on-the-cheap, and features more random bric-a-brac. Most tellingly, both restaurants commonly feature seating inside a converted San Francisco trolley car in the middle of the dining area. Considering that one restaurant is from Portland and one from Dallas, it would be remarkable indeed if they both happened to come up with this bizarre idea independently.
  • The food: At both restaurants, entrees cost around $8, and include salad and unlimited bread. A small loaf of sourdough bread is brought out before the meal on a small cutting tray, with a serrated knife and a cup of garlic butter. The available entrees are very similar. After your meal at the Factory, you get a cup of vanilla, chocolate, or spumoni ice cream. When kids are done eating at the Warehouse, they can choose from a cup of chocolate or vanilla.
  • The locations: The states where Spaghetti Warehouse is located form almost an inverse map of the states where the Old Spaghetti Factory is located. It looks like they've expanded up to each other's borders, and there are now a few cities (like Atlanta) which have both chains.
This can't just be a coincidence. Does anybody have the inside scoop on how these bizzaro restaurant chains have co-existed for so long, or who ripped off who? Are they both copying some prototypical Old Spaghetti Dough Processing Facility in San Francisco?

Bonus question: Does anyone remember an 80's/early 90's comedy in which a guy was planning to start a restaurant chain called McRonald's (or McBonald's) which was basically an exact rip-off of McDonald's?
posted by designbot to Society & Culture (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Wow! Great analysis. I don't think I ever realized that there were two separate restaurant chains.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:16 AM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Does anyone remember an 80's/early 90's comedy in which a guy was planning to start a restaurant chain called McRonald's (or McBonald's) which was basically an exact rip-off of McDonald's?

Are you thinking of MacDowell's, from Coming to America?
posted by electroboy at 8:18 AM on May 12, 2008

I don't know the inside story on the spaghetti-industrial complex, although I've eaten at a Spaghetti Factory in Austin and an Old Spaghetti Factory in Tokyo and also marveled at the similarity.

Consider also I Can't Believe It's Yogurt and TCBY, which originally stood for "This Can't Be Yogurt" and was changed (after a lawsuit) to "The Country's Best Yogurt."
posted by adamrice at 8:22 AM on May 12, 2008

I have nothing on your first question, but the father of Eddie Murphy's love interest in Coming To America rana restaurant called McDougal's (I think) that was exactly like McDonald's.

No spumoni?! Heathens.
posted by InfidelZombie at 8:23 AM on May 12, 2008

In reading the link from fatllama, it doesn't mention anything about The Spaghetti Warehouse, so I am not sure if divorce is the case.

It might just be a copycat restaurant. I remember when I was in college near Los Angeles in the late 1980's, there was a chain called Flakey Jakes that was exactly like Fuddruckers. I do remember Flakey Jakes having a lot of "No Photos" signs, which made me think there was some type of lawsuit going on.

(May I just say that actually typing "when I was in college in the late 1980's" made me feel way too old.)
posted by Futurehouse at 8:35 AM on May 12, 2008

I have nothing on your first question, but the father of Eddie Murphy's love interest in Coming To America rana restaurant called McDougal's (I think) that was exactly like McDonald's.

It was McDowell's.
posted by nathan_teske at 8:36 AM on May 12, 2008

Married couple owned it. Married couple divorced and "split" the business.
fatllama, that's a very informative link, but it doesn't mention the Spaghetti Warehouse at all. The only divorce mentioned is in the late 1990's, and involves a relative who only owned a few locations. Spaghetti Warehouse has been around for 30 years.
posted by designbot at 9:17 AM on May 12, 2008

From fatllama's link:
The "Old Spaghetti Factory" name was originally trademarked by The Old Spaghetti Factory Cafe and Excelsior Coffee House in the North Beach area of San Francisco. The Dussins purchased the rights to the name, but there has never been a connection between their company, doing business as The Old Spaghetti Factory, and the restaurant in San Francisco, which closed in February 1983.
Very tantalizing. I wonder if the place in North Beach had seating in a converted trolley car.
posted by designbot at 9:20 AM on May 12, 2008

No spumoni?! Heathens.
It's not even fresh ice cream; it's one of those little prepackaged plastic cups with a paper lid and a wooden spoon. And only the kids get it. OSF & SW are both kind of crap, but OSF is definitely a step up the converted-warehouse-cheap-Italian-food chain.
posted by designbot at 9:25 AM on May 12, 2008

Not an answer for you, but in the DC Metro region there are two franchise burger joints that have almost the exact same menu and method of serving the burgers.

Five Guys and Boardwalk Burgers and Fries both offer fresh cooked burgers made to order with exactly the same choice of toppings and sizes. They also both offer free peanuts at the tables to snack on while you're waiting for your order. Boardwalk differ in that they offer different toppings on their greasy delicious fries. But basically the same layout and menu, but totally unconnected places.

FWIW, 5 Guys are by far the best burgers though.
posted by worker_bee at 9:27 AM on May 12, 2008

Another good example of this is Logan's Roadhouse and Texas Roadhouse. Apparently the TR founded wanted to open a Logan's and they said no, so he just opened a copycat and started a chain.
posted by PFL at 10:27 AM on May 12, 2008

Man, I loved Flakey Jake's.

They weren't as similar to Fuddrckers as the two Spaghetti places are/were, though. All I can say is- both are now closed in my area!
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 10:48 AM on May 12, 2008

You can't patent a business model. As long as one business isn't trying to fool customers by capitalizing on the good name/reputation of the other, there's no law against opening a kitschy chain restaurant that serves spaghetti.

It's easy to attract capital to open a copycat business, too. The business plan looks like this:

"We're going to do it exactly like they did, and they're growing at 15% per year and have a 25% operating margin. Please give us capital to invest."
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:58 AM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ahhh,, the Spaghetti Warehouse!

There used to be a location in Beaverton Oregon (suburb of Portland). I loved it! It closed several years ago, for reasons both unknown and unfathomable to me.

I'll take a pass on the Spaghetti Factory though, it feels a bit more contrived and franchise-y. Sort of like a slightly less faux-vegas-glam-styled version of the Cheesecake Factory.

I really miss the Spaghetti Warehouse.
posted by terpia at 11:00 AM on May 12, 2008

(As an aside, rumor has it that Dan's Hamburgers and Fran's Hamburgers split in two when Dan and Fran got divorced. I can't find anything on the webs to back that up.)
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:51 AM on May 12, 2008

(Oops, that would be in Austin, TX.)
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:51 AM on May 12, 2008

There's also the Spaghetti Works in the midwest.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 11:54 AM on May 12, 2008

A friend of mine left my company to go to the the private equity firm that owns "Spaghetti Warehouse". When he left I asked him this same question. As far he knows the original company was just a mid-west copy of the "The Spaghetti Factory".
posted by sideshow at 12:03 PM on May 12, 2008

Very tantalizing. I wonder if the place in North Beach had seating in a converted trolley car.
No. It was in an old brick warehouse on Green Street at Battery.
posted by trip and a half at 12:35 PM on May 12, 2008

In Canada, it's apparently called The Old Spaghetti Warehouse

posted by biscotti at 3:26 PM on May 12, 2008


I was referring to The Spaghetti Warehouse, not The Old Spaghetti Factory.
posted by designbot at 5:15 PM on May 12, 2008

The most depressing meal of my life was a accidental dinner at a Spaghetti Warehouse. At the time I thought the decor, menu, and general MO were just a terrible accident of incredibly bad cooking and taste, but reading the above business plan it appears to have been deliberate.
posted by docpops at 6:27 PM on May 12, 2008

Futurehouse, did you go to CSUN? I used to go to a Flakey Jakes near there ALL the time. There was also a Fuddeucker's near there that always smelled like rancid meat. Flakey Jakes was infinitely better, although obviously an identical concept. The LA times used to run a coupon in the Sunday calendar section, burger and fries for $3.99. That cupon was a staple for me.
posted by skybolt at 10:13 PM on May 12, 2008

Skybolt -
No, I went to college in Claremont, CA.
posted by Futurehouse at 7:56 AM on May 15, 2008

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