9 Corporate Comeback Kids - Businesses & Products that Came Back from Extinction

Great Corporate Comeback Stories
Scott Kalapos on May 15, 2023

In most cases, when a product fails or a business goes under, that's the end of the story. Whether they go out with a bang or a whimper, most closed businesses and discontinued products never again see the light of day and eventually fade into the annals of time. However, this isn't always the case. Sometimes, the proverbial plug gets put back in years after being pulled.

The final sentence of the above paragraph is what this post focuses on. Today, we're going to talk about 9 products and businesses that managed to come back to life after either perishing completely or teetering dangerously on the brink of extinction. We'll cover successful comeback stories as well as the details on some businesses whose revivals are currently underway or on schedule to debut in the near future.

1. Surge

Few drinks scream "90s" quite like Surge. In fact, "scream" is a pretty appropriate word, considering the fact that in many of the commercials, the name of the Soda was hollered into a phone at top volume. This ended up becoming a popular crank call to perform in the late 90s, but this is hardly the only memorable thing about Surge.

Surge was a lemon-lime flavored soda that was produced by Coca-Cola and was meant to compete with Pepsi's Mountain Dew. A big hit with the extreme sports crowd, Surge was infused with maltodextrin to give it a bit of an energy boosting kick. It was anticipated to be such a hit, that during its development, Coca-Cola workers called it "MDK", which was short for "Mountain Dew Killer".

Despite great initial sales, Surge quickly slowed and was removed from shelves by the end of 2003. This was something that greatly upset its large and loyal fanbase. A Facebook group called SURGE Movement (which now has its own full-fledged website (opens in a new window)) went to work, barraging Coca-Cola with requests to bring back their beloved beverage. This finally succeeded in 2014, when Surge was made available in 16 oz cans on Amazon. In 2018, it began to be offered at Burger King locations with Freestyle model soda dispensers. One place where it was never discontinued was Norway, where it is called "Urge". This is because another drink already had legal rights to the name Surge prior to the soda's initial launch.

2. Crunch Tators

Another convenience store and supermarket favorite that appeared, disappeared, and rose again is Crunch Tators. Crunch Tators are produced by Frito-Lay and are an extra crunchy variety of potato chip. They're somewhat similar in texture to kettle chips, but come in their own distinct jalapeno and mesquite BBQ flavors.

Almost as well known as the chips themselves is their mascot. Each bag of Crunch Tators features an anthropomorphic grinning alligator whose outfit changes based on the flavor of chips he's plugging.  They were most often found in the Big Grab single serving Frito-Lay bags that were omnipresent in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Though they met with enthusiasm in the beginning, they eventually faded into the background of a crowded market and disappeared by the mid 90s.

Starting in 2022, Crunch Tators returned to the market, mostly being found at Dollar General stores. There's word that this is a temporary revival, but sales performance will likely decide the fate of these crispy snacks. If you've never had these chips but they still seem familiar, it might be due to the fact that they were featured in a scene in the movie Home Alone, along with a can of Pepsi. Being that Frito-Lay and PepsiCo are a merged unit, this makes plenty of sense.

3. Planters Cheez Balls

Do you remember our post about discontinued snacks that need to make a comeback? As it turns out, one of them now has! The snack we're referring to is Planter's Cheez Balls. Introduced in 1981, these snacks were hugely popular from the get-go. Coming in a cylindrical can topped with a freshness seal, Cheez Balls were introduced alongside Planters Pretzel Twists, Corn Chips, and Cheez Curls, all of which were housed in similar packaging. Of all of these, only Cheez Balls developed a big following.

With their bright orange color, satisfying crunch, and conveniently grabbable size, Planters Cheez Balls were a fixture at parties, in break rooms, and in school lunches. They were discontinued for a while in the early 2000s, but a clamor to bring them back started as early as 2005. They made their official comeback in 2018, looking very much the same as they did in the 80s and 90s. Just about the only difference is an updated Mr. Peanut on the can. The return was said to be temporary, but as of 2023, they're still available in grocery stores all over America.

4. Roy Rogers Restaurants

Of all of the fast food chains that have come and gone over the years, Roy Rogers is one of the most memorable. Technically, it never went away completely, but it's been on the very brink of survival on numerous occasions. Roy Rogers actually started out as Ro-Bee's House of Beef, though the name was changed after claims of copyright infringement  by Arby's. Though the name Roy Rogers was established in 1968, the Western theme of the restaurants décor from the Ro-Bee days never left.

For most of its history, the chain was operated by Marriott and at its peak, it had more than 600 locations. Part of the appeal of Roy Rogers is the unique makeup of its menu. In addition to burgers, they also peddle roast beef sandwiches, fried chicken, biscuits, and in many locations, Hershey's ice cream. Another feature that all diehard fans are sure to know about is the Fixin's Bar. The Fixin's Bar is a condiment island where customers can add pickles, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, ketchup, mustard, and all sorts of other ingredients to their burgers. Many of the burgers and other sandwiches at Roy Rogers come without many toppings, as allowing customers to customize meals to their liking is a big part of the chain's appeal.

In the early 90s, Roy Rogers was bought out by Imasco, the company that at the time operated Hardees. This was before the Hardees/Carl's Jr merger. Things didn't go particularly well, and many of the Roy Rogers restaurants were rebranded as Hardees locations. This upset customers, and the units were temporarily converted back. However, key recipe components had changed, and by 1996, only 13 franchisees remained, with most operating locations in truck stops and travel centers. Standalone units were almost extinct at this point.

In 2002, Plamondon Hospitality partners acquired the chain. They've been slowly bringing it back to life since, with 40 locations now existing in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern regions of the country. Plans for expansion are underway, so be on the lookout for a Roy Rogers in your neck of the woods over the course of the next few years.

5. Sbarro

Sbarro is another restaurant chain that never went entirely out of business, but certainly went through a dark and scary period. Sbarro started as a small Italian grocery store in 1956. Based in Brooklyn, this original location remained in business until 2004. For most of its history, Sbarro was synonymous with shopping malls. Nearly every mall seemed to have one in its food court, offering a hot slice of pizza for a quick meal break while shopping. Even more iconic than its mall food court presence was its Italian flag colored logo.

Things started to go downhill for Sbarro in the early 2000s and only became worse as the decade went on and moved into the 2010s. With the closure of shopping malls and the death of mall culture in America, Sbarro found itself in big trouble. Compounding this was the fact that their product was viewed as outdated and inferior in both quality and taste. This led to plummeting sales and Sbarro filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2011 and then again in 2013.

By 2014, Sbarro was back in the black and had moved its headquarters from New York to Columbus, Ohio. It's also changed its focus to providing what it calls "impulse pizza". Offering single slices to go on college campuses, in airports, at convenience stores, and even at the Pentagon, Sbarro offers a kind of quick pizza service that delivery based chains can't really contend with. However, they are making a pretty penny off of orders delivered from convenience stores via third party mobile apps.

In addition to changing where they sell their pizza, Sbarro has also changed how they go about doing it. They've improved the quality and freshness of their ingredients and have also expanded to offer a wider and more diverse menu. Their new pizza slice shaped logo and company colors are meant to be a reflection of this change. Meanwhile, they've also tapped into the fast casual market by having opening standalone restaurants under the name of Pizza Cucinova both in American and foreign markets.

The video below takes a look at Sbarro back in its more troubled days, taking an in-depth look at the company's rise and (at the time) fall.

6. Levi's 505 Jeans

The first non-food member of this list comes in the form of Levi's 505 jeans. This particular style of blue jean was first launched in 1967. Apart from the greasers of the 1950s, blue jeans were mostly viewed as a blue-collar, working man's garment for much of their history. This changed with the summer 1967 launch of Levi's 505 jeans, which were an instant hit among the rock n roll subculture.

Levi's 505 jeans were famously worn by all members of The Rolling Stones 1971 on the cover of their 1971 Sticky Fingers album. They also quickly became a staple within the biker community and were popular with hippies. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, they'd become a favorite among punk rockers. Their unisex look, straight cut, and relaxed fit set them apart from the traditional 501 models.

Eventually, this style faded from the public eye and ceased production. As is the case with many of the other products and businesses featured in this article, there was an intense clamoring among loyal fans to bring them back. This finally happened in the form of Levi's 505C jeans. Levi's was so determined to reproduce their earlier success that they even chose to have the cotton for the jeans sourced from the very same mill that supplied the fabric for the original 505 jeans.

The video below outlines some of the key differences between 505 and 501 jeans. As to why and how the numbering system started, nobody really knows. All of the original records of Levi's were lost when the San Francisco Earthquake (and ensuring fires) destroyed Levi's headquarters and the historic documents it held in 1906.

7. Montgomery Ward

Next up on our list is Montgomery Ward. Anyone who was alive between the 1950s and 1990s surely remembers Montgomery Ward department stores, though their history actually began as a mail order catalog in 1872. Things have kind of come full-circle, as after going out of business, this was the form they were resurrected in a few years later.

Montgomery Ward started out in Chicago as a mail order product catalog, much like competitor Sears. Its original catalog was called the "Wish Book". The Wish Book remained as the company's sole point of sales until 1926, when their first retail location opened in Indiana. By the end of the 1920s, more than 500 Montgomery Ward retail locations had been opened up across the country. Refusing a merger offer from Sears in 1930, the company began opening large urban units and smaller "green awning" locations in smaller towns around America. Business was booming and all was more or less well through the 40s and 50s.

Sales weren't quite as good in the 1960s, due to increased competition. In an effort to increase market share, Montgomery Ward bought out the Florida-based Jefferson's Department Store chain, operating these locations under the name of Jefferson-Ward. This proved a costly move as the stores were sprawled out and hard to organize and even harder for the corporation to maintain while still overseeing their primary chain. This led to a buyout of Montgomery Ward by Mobil in 1976. The company organized to leverage a buyout back in 1988, once again being independent.

The good times didn't last, as increasing competition from chains such as Walmart and Target increasingly hurt Montgomery Wards' bottom line. They filed for bankruptcy in 1997 and were acquired by GE Capital shortly after. They then shortened the name to just "Wards" before going out of business in 2001. As the brand and its assets still had value even after closing, the rights to these properties changed hands a few times over the following years. In 2004, Colony Brands became the new owner and shortly thereafter, launched a new catalog and e-commerce site. The new Montgomery Ward website and catalog are still around today, using both the classic Montgomery Ward and newer Wards branding.

8. Pathmark Supermarkets

The last of the three retail chains we'll be taking a look at in this article is Pathmark. Rather than a department store, Pathmark was a grocery store chain that at one point also operated gas stations and pharmacies. They were an icon of the New York City area, being the number one grocery retailer in NYC for decades.

Pathmark began in 1968 when a group of Wakerfern Foods (the same company that operates competitor ShopRite) grocery store owners split off to form their own independent supermarket chain. From the beginning, the chain's approach was to operate large stores in urban areas that offered high quality groceries at low prices. They were a pioneer in many areas, being the first chain to introduce computer scanners at checkout counters. They also were one of the first chains to include full pharmacies, bakeries, delis, and floral centers within their stores. This model was introduced in the 1970s as a Pathmark Supercenter and was an instant smash hit.

Throughout the 1980s, Pathmark was the top grocery retailer in New York City and among the top 10 in the entire country. They were now operating in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. As time went by, the chain didn't change much. What had worked in the past was becoming outdated, and by the late 90s, the stores were seen as a bit dingy and behind the times. Additionally, a large debt was created when the chain attempted to go public to avoid a buyout by another corporation. This led to serious financial trouble, and several stores closed as the 90s wore on.

In 2007, Pathmark was acquired by the A&P supermarket chain. During this time, there was an attempt to modernize the remaining Pathmark locations and to take on a bit of a more upscale motif. This was balanced out by smaller discount stores, known as Pathmark Sav-a-Centers. A&P ended up going bankrupt in 2010, and by the end of 2015, all of its locations had closed. This was also true for every location of the brands that it owned, bringing an end to the days of Pathmark.

Much like Ames, Pathmark was a store that had many fond memories attached to it by many people. There were several New York area residents who wished to see the store come back. Their prayers were answered in 2019, when a new Pathmark location opened up in Brooklyn, on the former grounds of a Key Foods store. This location is owned and operated by the Allegiance Retail Services arm of PSK Supermarkets. With 120+ stores in its fold, this organization is in sold shape. They've stated that if things go well with the new Brooklyn Pathmark, expansion efforts won't be far off.

9. Charlotte Hornets

Even though they often aren't thought of as a business, a sports team is just that. In fact, much like a fast food restaurant, every team in the NBA is known as a franchise. One of the few NBA teams ever to come back after ceasing to be, the Charlotte Hornets have one of the more interesting and confusing histories of any team in basketball history. Their story is only closely paralleled by the Cleveland Browns of the NFL, but we'll get to that in good time.

The Charlotte Hornets first competed during the 1988-89 NBA season. They were one of four expansion teams, joined by the Minnesota Timberwolves, Miami Heat, and Orlando Magic. The team owner was George Shinn, a then-beloved figure in the Charlotte area. Charlotte, at the time, was a rapidly expanding city and their new, state-of-the-art Charlotte Coliseum was a big selling point for bringing an NBA team to the city. This, coupled with North Carolina's status as the home of some of college basketball's most revered teams made the choice to bring an NBA team to Charlotte a slam dunk.

As is the case with most expansion teams, things got off to a bit of a rough start. However, the team met with instant popularity. Part of this was due to the fact that it was in a market that had previously been devoid of a professional sports team. Another key aspect was the team's uniforms. Their teal and white pinstriped jerseys and teal and purple Hornet mascot looked unlike anything else in the NBA at the time. Before long, people all over the country were decked out in Charlotte Hornets gear, whether they followed the team or not.

The Hornets began to perform much better during the 1990s, thanks to adding stars such as Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning, and Muggsy Bogues to the team. They first made the playoffs in 1993, and had several additional playoff runs as the decade went on. Still, a 1995 trade that dealt Alonzo Mourning to the Heat created some bitterness and was the first of many factors that led to the end of the love fest between Charlotte and George Shinn. In the late 90s, several incidents within Shinn's personal life (that we won't get into here) sunk his reputation and led to him going from revered to reviled in the Charlotte area. This caused attendance to drop, as did the now 13-year-old Charlotte Coliseum's lack of modern features that were popping up in other NBA arenas at the time.

Shinn wanted to renovate and update the Coliseum, but knew that most any proposal that came from him was going to be rejected by the city. He unsuccessfully tried to move the team to Memphis in 2001, and then went on record stating that he would move the team if a new arena was not built. Part of the bargain Shinn drove was that not one dime for the construction costs was to come from his pocket. The proposal went to a vote and didn't pass. The city then claimed it would build an arena, but only if Shinn stepped down as team owner. Shinn and the Hornets then packed their bags and moved to New Orleans. A few years earlier, the Cleveland Browns moved their team to Baltimore (now the Ravens), and this resulted in some ugly reactions and heavy lawsuits. To avoid a similar situation, the NBA guaranteed Charlotte an expansion team by 2004, on the condition that they managed to build a new arena

The Hornets would play for the next 12 years in New Orleans, with the exception of the 2005-06 and 2006-07, where they played many of their home games in Oklahoma City due to the destruction in New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina. Meanwhile, Charlotte got its expansion team in the 2004-05 season. This team was called the Bobcats and it managed to set several records for being one of the worst teams in NBA history. Their gray and orange color scheme didn't sit well with fans, nor did feats such as winning only 7 games in a season, which took place in 2011-12. Big names entered the picture, as Michael Jordan became a minority owner of the team as well as director of basketball operations.

Meanwhile, star rookie players such as Emeka Okafor in 2005 and Kemba Walker in 2011 were brought on board to be the  future of the team. The Hornets/Pelicans seem to have a thing for UConn players, with Scott Burrell, Emeka Okafor, Ben Gordon, Hilton Armstrong, Jeff Adrien, Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Jake Voskuhl, Jerome Dyson, and James Bouknight all having played in either Charlotte or Oklahoma. Additionally, Shabazz Napier was drafted by the Hornets in 2014 before being traded to the Miami Heat, while Isaiah Whaley currently plays for the Greensboro Swarm, the Hornets' G-League affiliate.

Despite a new arena being built in 2007, attendance wasn't very good. While the team did make the playoffs in the 2009-10 season, success was fleeting. Their next playoff appearance wouldn't come until 2014. During the 2014 season, it was announced that the team would be re-branded as the Charlotte Hornets once again, as the New Orleans Hornets would be changing their name to the Pelicans. A deal was worked out with the NBA such that the new Charlotte Hornets would acquire the records of the original team, running from 1988 through 2002. On paper, history shows the team as having suspended operations from 2002 to 2004, with the seasons as the Bobcats also being blended into the Hornets' history. An odd result of this was the Pelicans being given status as a 2004 expansion team, in a bit of history re-writing.

By the 2014-15 season tipoff, the Hornets were the Hornets again and their much loved teal team color was back, this time accompanied by a bit of purple and gray. Charlotte branded itself as "Buzz City", at least for basketball purposes, due to the excitement of having their new old team back. This name is still used in connection with the team today.

The next time you're worried about your business or any of its products struggling, look around. Is there a loyal fan base who you know will go to bat for you or what you produce? Do you have deep confidence and conviction that you can truly succeed? If so, don't give up! Just remember the stories we've shared in this article and know that you too can beat the odds and come out on top.

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