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National Chains Succumb to the Coronavirus

Buffet chain Souplantation has announced it will permanently close all locations because of the financial effects of COVID-19. It is the first national restaurant chain to shutter due to the pandemic. Parent company Garden Fresh Restaurants, which founded the chain 42 years ago in San Diego, announced earlier this month that its 97 restaurants throughout the country will not reopen. Like all restaurants, Souplantation dining rooms have been closed since mid-March. The closures will affect 44 locations in California, including those in Palmdale, Valencia, Camarillo and the Porter Ranch Town Center. None could be reached by the Business Journal for comment. The chain specializes in soup and salad bars and is known as Sweet Tomatoes outside of Southern California. In a statement on its website, Souplantation said it has about 4,400 employees, all of whom will lose their jobs. To blame for the closures is the chain’s buffet-style service model. The Food and Drug Administration has recommended that restaurants discontinue self-serve stations upon reopening, and many states have expressly prohibited buffets from reopening even as they roll back restrictions on restaurant dining rooms and other non-essential businesses. That has left Souplantation in a tight spot. In an interview with the San Diego Union Tribune, Garden Fresh Chief Executive John Hayward said: “The regulations are understandable, but unfortunately, it makes it very difficult to reopen. … And I’m not sure the health departments are ever going to allow it.” Souplantation was struggling to stay relevant even before the pandemic. The company filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors in 2016 amid declining foot traffic, and was subsequently purchased by Perpetual Capital Partners, a private investment firm in Washington, D.C. Neiman Marcus Restaurants aren’t the only retail chains struggling to stay afloat. Neiman Marcus Group Inc. has filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors due to mounting debt and the virus shutdown. “Like most businesses today, we are facing unprecedented disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has placed inexorable pressure on our business,” said Chief Executive Geoffroy van Raemdonck in a statement. In a press release announcing the filing, Neiman Marcus specified it does not expect mass store closures and plans to emerge from Chapter 11 this fall. However, it said it may consider individual store closures on a case-by-case basis. “We will emerge a far stronger company,” said van Raemdonck. Headquartered in Dallas, the upscale fashion chain has 43 namesake stores, including locations at the Westfield Topanga and the Village shopping center in Canoga Park and the Camarillo Premium Outlets mall. Both are temporarily closed under the state’s nonessential business restrictions and could not be reached for comment by the Business Journal. Burdened by nearly $5 billion in debt, the 112-year-old luxury banner has struggled in recent years. Chapter 11 will buy it time to reorganize, but turnaround efforts will be complicated by the ongoing closure of most brick-and-mortar stores and the furlough of in-store employees. Just 10 Neiman Marcus locations are open for curbside pickup as some states have loosened business restrictions. To continue operating during the Chapter 11 proceedings, Neiman Marcus has a restructuring deal with creditors for $675 million in debtor-in-possession financing and a $750 million exit package that would fully refinance the DIP credit and provide some extra liquidity. Neiman Marcus was purchased in 2013 by L.A. asset management firm Ares Management and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board for $6 billion. The virus has hit high-end clothing retailers hard. Earlier this month, J Crew Group entered Chapter 11, becoming the first major retailer to seek protection from creditors because of the pandemic. Also, in April, J. C. Penney Co. defaulted on a $12 million debt payment, rousing speculation regarding a possible Chapter 11 filing.

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