2009 Begins with More Restaurant Closings


Posted by R.K. Gella

On Wednesday employees of three B.R. Guest Restaurants arrived to work without jobs.  Coming across the wire was news that Steve Hanson, the founder and president of B.R. Guest Restaurants, was closing three venues, Fiamma (SoHo), Ruby Foo’s (Uptown) and Blue Water Grill (Chicago), all effective immediately.

Hanson said, in a statement to the press via his PR office:

“I just couldn’t sustain the restaurant with one 6:00-9:30 seating. And on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesdays we weren’t even doing that. Wall Street’s [woes] have been devastating to business. These guys just don’t have the expense accounts anymore. Fabio was great to work with, the staff was great. It’s all a product of the economy.”

The closure sent shockwaves throughout an anemic industry, bringing the realization that this may very well be just the beginning.

The following day Eater.com ran a list of all the three-star club members (New York Times reviewed three-star restaurants in the city) as if morbidly setting the spread on what establishment would flounder next.

The Three Star Club is precarious: diners eat with very elevated expectations and as a result are not always satisfied with the value-experience proposition with which they’re met.

But was it the three-stars?  Frank Bruni weighed with his hypothesis on the recent turn of events, citing the ubiquitous business philosophy of: location, location, location.

“You show me a restaurant that does consistently bonkers business in good times — or one that’s doing just fine in these bad times — and I’ll show you a restaurant that has been plotted and fashioned with a real understanding of its zip code: of who lives there; who travels there; and what the general aesthetics, spirit and even mythology of the particular neighborhood, block, avenue or even street corner… Fiamma was trying to make it in an odd no man’s land of sorts.

Regardless, these hindsight observations offer nothing but assumption and recap.  Determining who will survive the economic crunch has become reminiscent of a trip to Atlantic City.  Will the high-end establishments, with patrons only mildly deterred by the financial crisis prevail?  Or will it be the low-end market, banking on cheap eats and cheap booze, but with a fiscally sensitive clientele?

Who would have bet against Steve Hanson?  A few months ago he could play it cocky with a Forbes magazine reporter outlining his restaurant philosophies and business savvy.

“There are 20,000 working parts in a restaurant,” he said in the Forbes piece. “You have to watch them all.”

Indeed you do Mr. Hanson.  Absolutely indeed.

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