Friendly Ice Cream Corp. said it has closed 63 restaurants, seven in Connecticut, ahead of its Chapter 11 filing for bankruptcy protection. Each employed about 20 people.
Restaurants in Darien, Bridgeport, Danbury, Milford, Naugatuck, New Milford, North Haven, the Southport section of Fairfield and West Haven will remain open.
The 76-year-old company known for its ice cream and hamburgers is the latest restaurant chain to file for bankruptcy, as consumers continue to dine out less, a habit they picked up during the recession, and food costs remain high.
In May, the company sold 32 restaurants to J&B Restaurants, a Long Island, N.Y.-based franchisee, bringing J&B's total number of Friendly's to 65. J&B owns several of the Connecticut Friendly's, including the one in Bridgeport.
The franchise fee for a Friendly's starts at $35,000 for the first two restaurants and then goes to $30,000 for each additional restaurant. The cost of building and running the restaurant are not covered by the fee. Franchisees pay a 3.5 percent marketing fee and a 4 percent royalty fee monthly to the corporation based on monthly net sales, according to Friendly's website.
Workers at the Fairfield and Bridgeport Friendly's declined to comment on a potential bankruptcy, both indicating the restaurants are franchises and not corporate-owned.
While unlikely to threaten their ice cream places, customers and business experts saw the potential bankruptcy as an indication of the economy's state.
Friendly's said the economic downturn coupled with higher costs and high rents drove it to file for bankruptcy protection.
"The strategic decision to pursue a financial restructuring will allow us to proactively and quickly improve our financial position," said Chief Executive Officer Harsha V. Agadi.
Friendly Ice Cream Corp., based in Wilbraham, Mass., says it has secured $70 million in financing and that its 424 remaining restaurants will stay open and pay employee salaries and benefits as it reorganizes under bankruptcy protection. Gift cards will continue to be honored. Friendly's now employs about 9,000 workers.
Its current owners, Sun Capital Partners, will be the lead, or "stalking horse," bidder in an auction process.
The company filed for bankruptcy protection at the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware.