Friday, November 26, 2010

Another rough patch for restaurants?

The job to have these days is supplying restaurants with “For sale or rent” signs. The last two months alone would’ve made your year.

The bankruptcy of CB Holdings, parent of the Charlie Brown’s, Office and Bugaboo Creek steakhouse chains, snagged the headlines. But it was hardly the only operator to shutter restaurants (about 32 of its 80 outlets).

A Sonic franchisee in Florida benched the carhops at its 11 stores. Ted’s Montana Grill put nine of its 55 restaurants out to pasture. Jack in the Box shut 40 restaurants.

Recent times have been particularly lethal for landmark one-offs, like 91-year-old Lahiere’s in Princeton, N.J.; 53-year-old Terri’s in Portsmouth, Va.; nearly-40-years-old Stratton’s Dairy Dip in Ashland, City, Tenn.; and Elisha’s in Milford, N.H., a youngster with just three-and-a-half decades of operation.

Add in the bankruptcy of The Glazier Group, operator of the Michael Jordon’s and Strip House steakhouses, and it’s difficult to deny that the shakeout has intensified again.

The question is, how long will that rev-up continue? Is this just a year-end blip, a result of places assessing where they stand for the year and realizing they’re too far in the red?

Or is this an indication the recession could be a double-dipper for many restaurants? Did too many places bet they could ride out the downturn without adjustments, only to learn this is more of a new reality than a temporary departure from the business they knew?

Come January and February, we’ll know for sure.

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