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Restaurant apocalypse: Nearly 1,000 chain restaurant locations are now gone


Theo Thimou,

Chain restaurants have a front-row seat to a David vs. Goliath struggle — and they’re on the wrong end of the sling!

Amid talk about a restaurant recession, it turns out the chain restaurants might not be facing woes because of lower grocery prices, competitors pushing discounts or prevailing economic headwinds.

It might be mom and pop who are cleaning the big restaurants’ clocks with a spatula in one hand and a slingshot in the other.

Read more: 17 senior restaurant discounts for those 50 and older

2017 restaurant closings: What you need to know

That’s right, diners are starting to favor independent restaurateurs over chain names in what amounts to a major reversal of longstanding consumer tastes.

Food industry consulting group Pentallect projects that locally owned indie eateries will grow by 5% over the next three years. And the chain restaurants? They’re only forecast to grow by 3% by 2020, down from the 3.6% growth that the top 500 U.S. restaurant chains saw in 2016.

So there’s a fresh angle on why so many big restaurant brands are struggling!

With that in mind, we’re keeping a running tally of which restaurants are closing and how many locations they’re killing off.

With the new addition of Joe’s Crab Shack to this list and more new Applebee’s closures announced, some 900+ locations have been shuttered across multiple chains since 2016.

Joe’s Crab Shack – 40+ restaurants closed (NEW)

Joe’s Crab Shack sprung a surprise on employees and customers alike when it abruptly shut down some four dozen locations in August.

Ignite Restaurant Group, the restaurant chain’s owner, filed for bankruptcy in June.

Papa Murphy’s – 16 stores to be cut

The take-and-bake pizza chain is trimming its portfolio of company-owned restaurants by up to 16 stores as it prepares for another round of franchising activity.

“We have a clear opportunity to reduce short-term losses while giving new owners a more profitable portfolio of stores from the start,” says Jean Birch, Chair of the Board and Interim Chief Executive Officer of Papa Murphy’s Holdings.

As of early April 2017, Papa Murphy’s Holdings operated 168 of its 1,566 stores.

No word yet on which locations will be axed, but the cuts are expected to come by the end of 2017.

Bravo Cucina Italiana/Brio Tuscan Grille – 6 stores to be closed

Bravo Brio Restaurant Group Inc. announced plans in May to kill six of its restaurants in 2017.

There are currently 51 Bravo Cucina Italiana locations and 65 Brio Tuscan Grille locations across the country.

Pollo Tropical — 30 stores shuttered

Pollo Tropical, the restaurant chain best known for its chicken dishes with a Caribbean twist, announced the closure of 30 underperforming stores in April.

All locations in Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth and Nashville were shuttered as part of a strategic renewal plan implemented by new management.

Parent company Fiesta Restaurant Group continues to operate Pollo Tropical stores in its Florida stronghold. In addition, there 19 other stores sprinkled throughout the Atlanta metro area and around the state of Texas.

Applebee’s — Up to 135 restaurants will get the ax (NEW)

2017 has not been kind to Applebee’s.

In March, parent company Dine Equity signaled its intent to take between 40 to 60 Applebee’s restaurants offline permanently sometime this year.

“We believe, clearly, that restaurant closures are an important tool to preserving the financial health of the system,” interim CEO Richard Dahl told analysts during an earning calls.

Just months later, Dine Equity came back in August and said the headcount of closing restaurants is growing. The company now expects to shutter between 105 and 135 of its nearly 2,000 Applebee’s locations.

Noodles & Company – 55 restaurants to close

The purveyor of American noodle dishes disclosed in February plans to shutter 55 restaurants amid slowing sales.

As of March 1, it’s already pulled the plug on 39 of those underperforming locations.

Outback Steakhouse/Carrabba’s Italian Grill/Bonefish Grill — 43 restaurants closed

In February, Bloomin’ Brands announced the closures of 43 underperforming restaurants. The casual dining giant operates some 1,500 restaurants across the Outback, Carrabba’s and Bonefish Grill brands.

Although no list of the affected restaurants was released, you can see a partial list we’ve compiled based on local news reports.

Howard Johnson’s — Last store disappears forever!

This iconic American restaurant once boasted a headcount of 800 stores. But in January, the chain’s final location — in Lake George, N.Y. — got shuttered for good.

Here’s a look back of some restaurants that closed in 2016…

Applebee’s – 46 restaurants shuttered

Making a repeat appearance on this list does not bode well for a company! But such is the case with Applebee’s, which closed a first round of nearly 50 locations last year.

Bob Evans Restaurants — 27 restaurants gone

In April 2016, Bob Evans Restaurants announced the closure of 27 underperforming restaurants. Twenty-one of those restaurants closed immediately, while six other stores are expected to be phased out by the end of 2017.

Meanwhile, ownership of the brand changed earlier this year. In January 2017, the chain revealed it would be selling every single one of its more than 500 full-service restaurants nationwide to a private equity investment firm.

Golden Gate Capital, which also owns California Pizza Kitchen and Red Lobster, now owns the brand as part of its portfolio.

Subway — 359 locations finished

For the first time in history, Subway closed more stores than it opened when 359 locations went on the chopping block in 2016.

But you shouldn’t feel too bad for the sandwich shop; it still operates more than 26,000 U.S. stores, plus another 14,000 or so internationally.

That combined store count makes Subway the most ubiquitous fast-food chain on the globe!

Old Country Buffet/Ryan’s — 11 restaurants closed

Ovation Brands — owner of Old Country Buffet, Ryan’s, HomeTown Buffet and other buffet restaurant chains — abruptly closed 11 restaurants across nine states in June 2016, according to

The company is in the midst of its third Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing since 2008. In total, it has closed more than 400 locations over the past eight years. All restaurants that closed in the following locations were branded as Old Country Buffets unless otherwise noted.

  • San Jose, CA
  • Arlington Heights, IL
  • Laurel, MD
  • Wyoming, MI
  • Duluth, MN
  • Mankato, MN
  • Greenwood, SC (Ryan’s)
  • Alcoa, TN (Ryan’s)
  • Crossville, TN (Ryan’s)
  • Bellingham, WA
  • Onalaska, WI

Ruby Tuesday – 95 restaurants gone

In August 2016, Ruby Tuesday announced plans to close some 95 company-owned restaurants during the following month.

Although no list of the affected restaurants was ever released, we compiled a partial list of the shuttered stores based on local media reports.

Read more: This food is marked up 636% at restaurants!

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