Chicken wings aren’t good, yet the ones at Ponderosa Steakhouse in 1999 were delicious. The chain of buffets was founded in 1963 by Dan Blocker, who played Eric “Hoss” Cartwright on Bonanza,and enjoyed its peak popularity when TV Westerns were still big. Ponderosa was the name of the ranch on Bonanza. When I was 5, as I was in 1999, I did not care about these facts — I had no concerns at all, personally, and Wikipedia did not exist, generally — but I deeply cared about Ponderosa Steakhouse. I begged to go there.
Most of this love affair was actually with the ability to play grown-up and select my own food and carry my own stuff — and serve my own ice cream! — but I stand by it. A buffet is a glamorous idea; it provides you with the otherwise difficult-to-accomplish joy of eating many small servings of many different delicious things all at the same time, regardless of whether they are meant to be served together. Yet the Ponderosa Steakhouse in Canandaigua, New York, is now a parking lot for a Starbucks.
There were, at one point, 305 Ponderosas (and sister buffet Bonanzas) in the US, and today there are 75 locations total — including 19 in Puerto Rico and a handful scattered in Egypt, Qatar, Taiwan, and the UAE. The Ponderosa parent company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcyin 2008, the same year as the company that owns Old Country Buffet (and four other buffet chains).