Restaurants Unlimited on the Bankruptcy Auction Block

Seattle-based Restaurants Unlimited, Inc., operator of 35 restaurants across six states, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Delaware along with three affiliates. The Bankruptcy Court has scheduled a “first-day” hearing to take place today, July 9th, at 3:00 p.m. The hearing agenda is available here.

Update: The committee formation meeting has been set for July 23rd at 10:00 a.m. at 405 King Street, 2nd Floor Wilmington, Delaware. It promises to be a lovely, muggy, summer day with highs in the 90s and a chance of thunderstorms. I apologize. Seek out air conditioning.

Company Background

Restaurants Unlimited, an eatery chain owned by private-equity firm Sun Capital Partners, Inc, offers both fine dining and polished casual dining in “iconic” locations under the following local brands: 

  • Clinkerdagger
  • Cutters Crabhouse
  • Fondi Pizzeria
  • Henry’s Tavern
  • Kincaid’s
  • Maggie Bluffs
  • Manzana
  • Newport Seafood Grill
  • Palisade
  • Palomino
  • Portland City Grill
  • Portland Seafood Company
  • Scott’s Bar & Grill
  • Simon & Seafort’s
  • Skate’s on the Bay
  • Stanford’s
  • Stanley & Seafort

What Went Wrong?

The filing is the most recent in a spate of restaurant bankruptcies as consumers take advantage of falling grocery prices while restaurants grapple with increasing operating costs and market saturation. In particular, Restaurants Unlimited attributes its filing to steep minimum wage hikes across the Pacific coast—with additional hikes projected for 2020—and the national trend away from casual dining. The company’s unsuccessful, $10 million expansion into two new locations exacerbated these problems. The resulting liquidity crisis saw the company falling behind on rent obligations and vendor payments, defaulting on $40 million in secured debt, and shuttering six locations.

Other recent restaurant filings include Real-Mex, Pappa Ginos, Bertucci, Rock & Brews, Palm Restaurants, Garces Restaurant Group, Joe’s Tavern Brick House, and Taco Bueno.

On the Auction Block

Restaurants Unlimited commenced its bankruptcy case to sell its business through an auction process. The company’s prepetition lenders, Drawbridge Special Opportunities Fund and NXT Capital, and their agent, Fortress Credit Co., are providing $10 million in post-petition financing to support these efforts. In fact, the company first engaged an investment banker to locate to a buyer or secure new financing in 2016. Those efforts failed, and in spring 2019, Restaurants Unlimited hired Configure Partners to run a bankruptcy sale process. Will it have any better luck this time? Although the company does not have a purchase offer in hand, it reportedly has received some initial indications of interest and is “optimistic.”

Financing: At a Price

While post-petition financing will provide the company with much needed liquidity, it comes at a steep price. The financing comes in the form of a senior secured, super-priority, multi-draw term loan with $3.25 to be drawn on an interim basis before final court approval. While there is no roll-up of prepetition debt, the facility includes a 5% closing fee, a 2% commitment fee, and various other fees, as well as a proposed lien on avoidance actions (which would otherwise be available to pay unsecured creditors) and waiver of the debtor’s surcharge rights and the “equities of the case” exception under Bankruptcy Code section 552(b).

The financing is subject to the following proposed milestones, all of which are designed to culminate in a sale by the end of September–despite the fact that the company has not yet located a buyer.

  • July 10: Entry of interim DIP order
  • Aug. 20: Obtain stalking horse bid
  • Aug. 21: Entry of bid procedures order
  • Sept. 13: Bid deadline
  • Sept. 17: Auction
  • Sept. 20: Entry of sale order
  • Sept. 26: Sale consummation

The lien challenge deadline is the earlier of 60 days after selection of counsel to a creditor’s committee or75 days after the petition date. The investigation budget is $25,000.

Critical Vendors

Meanwhile, Restaurants Unlimited is seeking authority to pay up to $3.5 million in “critical vendor” claims consisting of amounts owed to logistics providers, PACA/PASA claimants and an estimated $1.3 million in 503(b)(9) claimants. An initial $500,000 could be paid if approved on an interim basis. Restaurants Unlimited estimates that it owes roughly $8 million to trade vendors, landlords and other unsecured creditors. Of that amount, approximately $4.1 million is owed to its 10 largest unsecured creditors:

Sysco$1.830,000
Pacific Seafood Co.$930,000
Charlies Produce Company$471,000
Microsoft Leasing$180,000
Aramark$160,000
Newport Meat$120,000
LA Specialty Produce Co. d/b/a SF Specialty$120,000
Retail Properties of America$104,000
Baseball Club of Seattle, d/b/a Seattle Mariners$100,000
Attilio Merlino & Assoc., Inc., d/b/a/ Merlino Foods$100,000

Additional Information

Additional information is available free of charge here.

Mette K.

Kitten Heels are Dead. Long Live Kitten Heels.

The retailpocolypose is continuing at full speed, impacting retailers both here in the US and across the pond. Clothing retailer LK Bennett Ltd. is the latest High Street casualty, closing five stores and going into administration in the UK. It is joined by its New York-based subsidiary, L.K. Bennett U.S.A., which has filed for chapter 11 protection in the Delaware Bankruptcy Court.

Company Background

Opening in London in 1990 to bring “a bit of Bond Street luxury to High Street,” LK Bennett quickly established itself as an upmarket retailer. And its founder, Ms Bennett, just as quickly established herself as “the Queen of the Kitten Heel.” Bennett’s “smart” dayware is a favorite of Princess Kate Middleton and other celebrities. And even Prime Minister Theresa May has been knows to step out in LK Bennett kitten heels.

Faltering Steps

Corporate missteps and a challenging retail environment have led to declining sales and, ultimately, bankruptcy.  Many of the elements of the LK Bennett story are all too familiar.

  • The UK clothing and footwear sector are suffering from price deflation, leaving LK Bennett priced beyond the reach of most shoppers.
  • Today’s retail environment is all about authenticity and distinctiveness; LK Bennett has failed to embrace a sense of uniqueness and creativity that would set it apart from more competitively priced competitors in a saturated market.
  • An excessive number of stores at above-market rates – exacerbated by decreasing foot traffic and overdependence on sales at brick & mortar locations – has left the company struggling with excessive lease costs.
  • LK Bennett has also failed to connect with its young consumers via social media and has been overtaken by younger, more-affordable and digitally-savvier brands. (Sorry, Prime Minister.)
  • Ownership changes have left strategies in flux without time to take root and come to fruition.

And by the way…. is an “affordable luxury brand” even a thing?  Are consumers who are willing to invest in a luxury pair of shoes more likely to go all in and aim for a recognized high-fashion shoe brand, such as Jimmy Choo? 

What Comes Next for LK Bennett?

Interested buyers have been actively pursuing the company, at least in the UK. Similarly to (much, much) edgier UK lingerie brand and retailer Agent Provocateur, LK Bennet’s counterpart bankruptcy filing for its US subsidiary has likewise been teed up to pursue a sale.

Case Information

L.K. Bennett U.S.A. is represented by DLA Piper as counsel and Ernst & Young as restructuring advisor. The case number is 19-10760. The case has been assigned to Judge Kevin Gross.

Mette H. Kurth