Arthur Treacher's Fish and Chips is a fast food seafood restaurant chain. At the peak of its popularity in the late 1970s, it had about 800 stores. As of 2016[update], following the closure of the sole Virginia and Pennsylvania locations, there are only nine remaining: three in New York; four in Ohio; and two in New Jersey (at the Bridgewater Commons and Rockaway Townsquare). Most locations have been co-branded with Nathan's Famous. In the Rochester, New York area, there are seven Arthur Treacher's locations, all co-branded with Salvatore's Old Fashioned Pizzeria. The menu offers fried seafood or chicken, accompanied by chips. Its main competitors are Long John Silver's and Captain D's.
The chain is the namesake of Arthur Treacher (1894–1975), an English character actor typecast as "the perfect butler" for his performances as Jeeves, as a butler in several Shirley Temple films, and the role of Constable Jones in Walt Disney Productions' Mary Poppins. At the time the chain was founded, Treacher was best known as the announcer and sidekick on the popular The Merv Griffin Show. Treacher "served as a spokesman for the restaurant chain in its early years, underscoring the British character of its food." In a 1975 interview, New England franchise vice president M. John Elliott claimed the fish recipe to be the actor's own, brought over from the United Kingdom.
The franchise company was started in 1969 as National Fast Food Corp. National Fast Food's principals at the time included S. Robert Davis, a real estate developer who built and leased several Colonel Sanders Kentucky Fried Chicken properties, his friend Dave Thomas, who sold his Colonel Sanders franchises back to that company for $3,000,000 and went on to found Wendy's, and L. S. Hartzog, who at the time ran a chain of bakeries selling biscuits to Colonel Sanders franchisees nationally.
In 1970, Fisher Foods swapped capital with and licensed franchises from National, with a total of 550 franchises sold (106 to Fisher alone), but only 99 stores were actually in operation. Apparently the time was ripe for the fish franchise concept: Long John Silver's, Captain D's, Skipper's and Alfie's Fish & Chips all started about the same time. Aided by Arthur Treacher's advertisements, these companies introduced British fish and chips to northeastern America, albeit four years after Salt's Fish & Chips (later renamed H. Salt, Esq. Authentic English Fish and Chips) introduced British fish and chips to America in California.
By the early 1970s, National Fast Food had become Orange Co. Under this name, Davis conducted an aggressive expansion campaign from 1972 through 1976. Lacking equity, he relied on generous sale-leaseback agreements. Under the terms of these agreements, Orange Co. would sell to investors sites for new restaurants and then sign long leases unconditionally guaranteeing to continue lease payments if the restaurants failed.
In the early 1970s, Britain and Iceland almost got into a shooting war over fishing rights after Iceland unilaterally implemented the 200-mile (370 km) fishing limit; there were numerous confrontations between vessels, some armed and others with armed escort ships. These events were called the "cod wars". Cod prices went from the low $2 range to mid-$3, which sent the low-priced fish restaurants into a tailspin, and all the companies retrenched.
Until 1979, Coldwater Seafood Corporation, owners of the Icelandic brand, processed it for Treacher's at their Cambridge, Maryland, facility. Coldwater was a U.S. subsidiary of the Icelandic Freezing Plants Corporation. Coldwater processed nearly all of the cod fish portions used by Arthur Treacher's Restaurants, who used Icelandic cod portions exclusively. At the time they processed approximately 68 million pounds of seafood products annually, and most of it from north Atlantic fish species. Approximately one million pounds of cod fish were processed annually for Arthur Treacher's Seafood Restaurants.
On November 21, 1979, Orange Co. sold Arthur Treacher's to Mrs. Paul's. However, under the terms of its original sale-leaseback agreements, Orange Co. remained liable for millions of dollars of payments to investors.
Mrs. Paul's promptly replaced the Icelandic cod with less expensive pollock that was oilier and of inferior quality. The move exacerbated tensions with franchisees – some of whom had already withheld a total of $5 million in royalties for what they perceived to be a steadily declining level of service. Litigation arising from the conflict eventually reached the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
After losing the case to the franchisees and having no way to compensate them, Mrs. Paul's sold Arthur Treacher's to Lumara Foods of America Inc. in March 1982. Lumara Foods filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code four months later.
The company was subsequently bought by a group of investors and the corporate offices were relocated to Youngstown, Ohio after which it again went into bankruptcy in 1983, emerging again two years later before being merged into a shell company by Jim Cataland.
From 1985 to 1993, Cataland started to expand the company again, albeit very slowly, followed in 1993 by an investment in the company by a group of investors. The investment was used to bring out a new, more modern, and updated seafood concept; to buy a large number of stores; and to move the company from its base operations in Youngstown, Ohio, to Jacksonville, Florida. The company retains a sizable presence in the Youngstown area today.
In the mid-1980s, franchises in Detroit, Michigan were converted by their owner to a new chain called Seafood Bay. Arthur Treacher's purchased six Seafood Bay locations back in 1997, but was unsuccessful in reverting them.
The company experimented with co-branding, forming an alliance with Arby's (which got its start in the Youngstown suburb of Boardman) for co-branded locations. One such location existed in Breezewood, Pennsylvania. However, by the late 1990s, Arby's parent Triarc removed the Arthur Treacher's portions of its co-branded Arby's. Today, Arthur Treacher's primary co-branding partner is with parent company Nathan's Famous.
The company holding the Arthur Treacher's trademark was acquired by PAT Franchise Systems, a wholly owned subsidiary of TruFoods Systems, Inc., in 2002. Nathan's Famous bought the exclusive rights to market the Arthur Treacher's trademark and sell their products co-branded with Nathan's Own concepts Kenny Rogers Roasters and Miami Subs in 2006; however, PAT Franchise Systems has a license agreement with NF Treachers to sell Arthur Treacher's Fish and Chips franchises in eight states.