I walked down to the Bennigan’s opposite the Art Institute in Chicago on Tuesday, July 29th, planning on having a nice lunch inside this always-busy restaurant, which, I have learned, was, in fact, the busiest restaurant in the entire chain.
Imagine my surprise when, taped to the window (see picture) was a sign that told me it was closed. I haven’t been that surprised since…well, since I drove to Cheddar’s in Davenport, Iowa—another very busy and popular restaurant—and had exactly the same experience.
Bennigan’s filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on Tuesday (apparently) and closed all 150 of its corporate-owned stores, including the Jewel in its Crown, the Bennigan’s in Chicago at 225 N, Michigan Avenue. The stark sign said it all: “Closed for business as of Tuesday, July 29.” Apparently even the employees were surprised, because one of them, Caleb Kosek, age 24, had just shown up for his first day of work, only to learn that the Metromedia Restaurant Group, which owned 150 of the cafes (another 140 are franchisee-owned) was now defunct.
Metromedia is owned by a billionaire named John Kluge, but he wasn’t responding to requests for comments on Tuesday. There were lots of Bennigan’s in the Chicago area, but only one (in Elgin) and three in northwest Indiana are owned by franchisees. It is also true that the area around the Art Institute is not exactly lousy with restaurants, so this location was primo.
Other restaurant chains in the “medium” price range are suffering as well, most notably Cheddar’s, mentioned above, Steak & Ale and Village Inn. In the chilly economic climate we are experiencing, people are either eating at fast food chains like McDonald’s or they are eating at home. Ruby Tuesday and Applebee’s stock (I own one share) were trading at their lowest ever, as a result of the glut of restaurants like these and T.G.I.F. abroad in the land at a time when jobs are in short supply, the minimum wage has been raised and food prices are soaring faster than the ice cap is melting.
But watching Bennigan’s on Michigan Avenue and a chain in business since 1976 go belly-up is still painful for those of us with a yen for a MonteCristo sandwich.