Who Was Arthur Treacher And What Happened To His Fish & Chips Restaurants?

By | March 31, 2022

test article image
Exterior view of businesses on 63rd Drive (near Queens Boulevard) in the Rego Park neighborhood, Queens, New York, New York, March 14, 1976. (Walter Leporati/Getty Images)

If you grew up in the '70s, you undoubtedly remember the Arthur Treacher's Fish & Chips restaurants, a fast food franchise that specialized in deep-fried cod and potatoes. But just who was Arthur Treacher, and what was the deal with his fish and chips?

Arthur Treacher's Fish & Chips

The old T.V. commercials for Arthur Treacher's Fish & Chips made it seem like a trip to jolly old England, but the restaurant chain was founded in Columbus, Ohio in 1969. It was started by a group called National Fast Food Corporation, headed by S. Robert Davis, and named after Arthur Treacher, a British actor who was often cast in manservant roles in films like Heidi, Mary Poppins, and Thank You, Jeeves. As the acting work dried up, he agreed to license his name to two different business ventures, the other a service to find household help called Call Arthur Treacher Service System. Part of Treacher's deal with the fast food company required him to appear at restaurant openings, but he earned no money from the enterprise beyond his license fees.

test article image
The last remaining Arthur Treacher's, in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. (TenPoundHammer/Wikimedia Commons)

Catching On And Flopping

The only thing that was truly British about Arthur Treacher's Fish & Chips was its recipe for fried cod, which has been used by Malin's of London since the 1860s. The portion sizes were generous, and the cost was low, making it a hit with a low-income crowd that was tired of burgers and pizza. By the 1970s, there were more than 800 stores around the country. Then the Cod War happened.

The so-called "Cod War" was a disagreement between Britain and Iceland over fishing rights in the North Atlantic, which heated up in the mid '70s and led to sky-high prices for Icelandic cod. Arthur Treacher's Fish & Chips had to raise their prices and lost customers in droves as a result. Many of its locations were closed, and the company restructured and rebranded a few times, but the times had changed. Fish and chips were no longer an exotic dish, and a more health-conscious America moved away from deep-fried foods. Today, only one Arthur Treacher's Fish & Chips, located in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, is still open.