Unlike other chains with two names like Checkers/Rally's, which uses only one of the names in a given region, restaurants in a given region could be named either Bonanza or Ponderosa. This is because Bonanza and Ponderosa were separate companies, which were later merged under Metromedia - so the names overlap depending on who had restaurants where prior to merger.
The names of the restaurants are derived from the classic TV series Bonanza, which was set at a place called Ponderosa Ranch. The Bonanza chain was started in 1963 by Dan Blocker, who played Eric "Hoss" Cartwright on Bonanza.
In 1967, Sam Wyly and his brother Charles Wyly bought the small Bonanza Steakhouse restaurant chain. The company grew to approximately 600 restaurants by 1989,, when the two brothers sold it.
In late July 2008, the S&A Restaurant Group, a subsidiary of the Metromedia Restaurant Group, filed for Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy, and closed over 300 company-owned Bennigan's and Steak and Ale restaurants. The company said that company-owned locations would not reopen, that franchise locations would not be affected, and that the company would continue operations of the Bonanza and Ponderosa Steakhouse chains, which are owned by a different subsidiary, Metromedia Steakhouses Co. LP. Metromedia Restaurant Group also shut down the www.PONDEROSASTEAKHOUSES.com website along with www.BONANZASTEAKHOUSES.com. This could be a result of the sites having to be configured to remove much of the content that relates to the prior parent company etc. A franchise in Rutland VT(USA) was contacted on Thursday, August 7, 2008 and explained that they are still in business as usual and only the other two resturant concepts are affected and even those will be bought out by franchisees. They are unsure when the Pondarosa and Bonanza websites will return online at this time as it was under the control of Metromedia Restaurant Group.
As of September 2008, Fred Boukzam, 49, of Brooklyn, and his restaurant company, PON Management, owned and operated 15 Ponderosa restaurants in Northeastern Ohio which 9 of them have closed following a federal lawsuit involving what authorities said is one of the largest "check-kiting'' schemes ever prosecuted in Northeastern Ohio. Boukzam and PON Management were charged with one count of felony bank fraud stemming from the scheme.
A lunch menu is also served. While patrons can choose a dinner entree at any time, the lunch menu also includes sandwiches, as well as specially-priced lunch portions of the dinner entrees. The sandwiches typically only come with choice of potato; entrees are served with the buffet.
The chain features Pepsi products and also have a proprietary recipe of steak sauce.
Prior to the mid-1990s, restaurants did not have the hot food bar; instead using a long salad bar referred to as "Freshtastiks".