The sign at the last Arthur Treacher's restaurant.

The Last of A Fish and Chips Empire Endures

The final Arthur Treacher’s stands the test of time by serving up fish, chips and nostalgia in Northern Ohio.
By Eric Gibson and Crystal Roberts | Photography by Eric Gibson

Editors Note: As of 2023, another Arthur Treacher’s has reopened in its former location of Garfield Heights, OH with plans to open more in the future.

It was like we were transported back in time. 

The ramped entryway into the last standing Arthur Treacher’s was weathered by the foot traffic from decades of patrons seeking the flakey white fish, battered and fried the same way since the late 70s.  This was the last location still in business, surviving a pandemic, the Cod Wars, and the rise and fall of fast food’s rough and tumble years.  That was why Arthur Treacher’s in Cuyahoga Falls, OH was too irresistible to stay away. Like the last dodo at the zoo, we had to see what the fuss was about before it was too late.  

The entire place had an unspoken charm that couldn’t be ignored.  Maybe it was the rich dark wood paneling or the bold patterned carpet that screamed: “not of this decade!” 

Or maybe it was as simple as the “Thanks for choosing us” from Christian, the effervescent cashier-slash-maitre d’ who, when not making rounds in the small dining room, took orders via an old school microphone.   He was a whirl, conversationally bussing empty tables or refilling drinks, genuinely happy we were there that night.  It was enchanting.  In this day and age of mediocre customer service more often than not, what Christian and the rest of the Arthur Treacher’s team provided was genuine hospitality.  They were happy to serve, happy to make sure we kept coming back, and made sure to let us know how important it was we were part of their night.  

Initially, there was some head-scratching.  What’s the big deal with fried fish?  A lot of places have their own version, some better than others, but what was it about the yellow lantern that drove a following despite nearly every other location fading away?  The underdog endured.  Like the Last Blockbuster, Arthur Treacher’s devout following is fueled by nostalgia and the desire for a place that isn’t overrun by the corporate mainstream.  But technically,  Arthur Treacher’s was mainstream during its fifteen minutes of fame.


The Rise and Fall of Arthur Treacher’s

In its prime, Arthur Treacher’s was over 800 restaurants strong, with the reign of the chain stretching from Ohio, where it was born, all the way to the west coast.  In 1968 the founders of Arthur Treacher’s teamed up with comedic legend and Ohio native Bob Hope, and fast food godfather Dave Thomas of Wendy’s to bring fish and chips to the States, even claiming the recipe came from the arguable birthplace of the dish, Malin’s in London.  The dish was simple, filets of North Atlantic cod dipped into a wet batter and fried crispy then paired up with extra thick-cut chips (we Yanks know them as french fries), and served up on paper in baskets.  The famed British stage and film actor Arthur Veary Treacher, whose role as the snooty butler Jeeves made him a definitive British icon, lent the chain the rights to his name. That sealed the deal for authenticity and cemented the brand as the de facto place to get fish and chips in a flash.  Business was booming.

Unfortunately, the ’80s were a tough decade for fast food, and the meteoric rise of Arthur Treacher’s fell just as quickly.  The Cod Wars, a series of cold wars fought between England and Iceland over the hotly contesting fishing grounds in the North Atlantic, led to mild aggression like cutting the British fishing nets. This drove the cost of cod through the roof and forced the owner of Arthur Treacher’s to use pollack in exchange for Atlantic cod, which altered the flavor and consistency.  Customers weren’t keen on the change, but it was here to stay.

The fall from grace continued well into the next century as healthier options continued to push fried food main courses to the fringes.  Slowly, one by one the franchisees closed doors and shuttered locations. 

Fast forward to late 2021. There were only two locations left, one in Garfield Heights, a Cleveland suburb, and one of the originals from the 80s, just a short drive south, in Cuyahoga Falls. Both locations were owned by franchisee Ben Vittoria.  Unfortunately, due to pandemic-related staffing shortages, the Garfield Heights location had to close.  

And then there was one.

One solitary Arthur Treacher’s, still proudly waving the Union Jack and serving up combos and plates of nostalgia to patrons that don’t appear to be waning any time soon.  So we decided to “tuck in” ourselves and see if that nostalgia was worth the fuss.

The Satisfying Crunch of the Original Combo

Our order came quickly, a sampling of everything from the Original combo to the kid’s chicken and the fish sandwich.  We tried as much as we could.  

An Original combo with two pieces of fish from Arthur Treacher's restaurant
Original combo, slaw and a drink. — Vittles&Nosh

The fish had an almost perfect batter-to-fish ratio that let the tender flakey meat shine without overpowering it and gave each bite a satisfying crunch. A very incredibly satisfying crunch. When paired up with the all-you-can-pump tartar sauce we could see what pushed the place to have a cult-like following.  The chips, extra thick wavy-cut potatoes, were light and fluffy in the center and crunchy on the outside.  They were the perfect match with any of the dishes.  With a hint of savory and salt on the outside, they were fine to eat on their own or splashed with a little malt vinegar for the bona fide experience.   The chicken, with the same crunchy batter, and the sandwich were also good yet simple.  Simple is the keyword.  Nothing on their menu was made to break tradition or take chances. 

And that worked really well.  

The fish sandwich with cheese from Arthur Treacher's restaurant.
the fish sandwich with cheese — vittles&Nosh

Because what we might be looking for in a flavor adventure was made up for in the way the place made us feel.  We didn’t want crazy outlandish chef-inspired renditions, we wanted classic fried fish and thick-cut chips.  We wanted crispy batter, fresh coleslaw, and corn-fried hushpuppies.  We wanted tradition, and that is what we got.

The wow factor came from the service.  Every single person behind the counter at Arthur Treacher’s made us feel welcome.  We just came for fish, they gave us an experience.  Combined with the warm interior, happy patrons and the black and white movie playing on the tv made this something different.  Something special.  Something that needed to be shared. 

With Lent at hand and only one Arthur Treacher’s left, we know the crew of smiling, welcoming, hard workers will keep the last of a legacy running, and running very well, and will continue to serve hungry patrons a perfect rendition of an English classic.  

However long the iconic yellow and green sign stays lit, it will be known as a beacon for a great experience.

Yeah, Christian, we’re glad we chose you too. 

The last Arthur Treacher’s is open from 1030 am until 9 pm Monday through Saturday and 1100 am to 830 pm on Sundays. The dining room is open for guests who want to take in the nostalgia, but for those in a hurry drive through or take-out is available.


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I’m taking it that this establishment is Chub approved?

Gail Stover

Very well written. Now I want some Arthur Treachers.