The red Skoda Fabia was found 10 minutes later. The man’s daughter had not woken up to witness the crime.
Durham Police arrested four teenagers in connection with the incident, which took place on Friday evening in St Helen Auckland, County Durham.
Those arrested – aged 14 to 17 – have been bailed pending further inquiries.
It is reported that the father had briefly parked outside the takeaway and left his keys in the ignition.
DC Mark Forster said: “The victim has been given words of advice about the wisdom of leaving a child on its own in a car. I’d like to remind people that they should under no circumstances leave cars unattended with keys in the ignition.”
He added: “This was an extremely distressing incident for the victim who feared for the safety of his young child.
“We are appealing for anyone who might have seen the car being stolen or abandoned to come forward.
“Thankfully we quickly located the car and were able to reunite the victim with his child, who was safe and well and hadn’t even woken up during the drama.”