The COVID-19 Financial Crisis: A Survival Guide

Complimentary Webinar
Thursday, March 26, 2020
10 am PT | 1 pm ET

Many experts are cautioning that the COVID-19 pandemic, together with other underlying problems in our economy, can trigger a severe and prolonged financial crisis. In response, Congress is already beginning to roll out economic relief packages. But will your business be able to survive?

If bankruptcy law is “emergency room medicine,” many US business are in a self-induced coma right now. Some are in a mandated coma. Others are in dire health, and their prognosis may look uncertain. When I walked into a local restaurant to pick up an order and show the owners some support this afternoon, the anxiety on their faces was palpable.

But like an emergency room doctor, we can use this time, while many operations are off-line or severely curtailed, to craft strategies and start laying the groundwork to restore businesses to economic health. Indeed, a business can significantly improve its prospects of surviving a financial crisis by being proactive at the onset of a downturn, rather than simply responding reactively.

Join me and my partner, Brian Shaw, for a complementary (and socially distanced) webinar on the evolving economic landscape and the preparatory actions that businesses should be taking now to address the COVID-19 financial crisis.

Register to join us.

/Mette K.

On the Auction Block: iPic-Gold Class Entertainment, Inc.

iPic-Gold Class Entertainment, Inc. (IPIC) has filed a Chapter 11 case in Delaware to sell its business through a “363” bankruptcy auction.

iPic’s Rise… and Fall

IMG_7496.jpgiPic is a Florida-based, publicly traded movie theater and restaurant company with 16 locations in 9 states that provide a “luxurious movie-going experience at an affordable price.” iPic touts its high-quality, chef-driven culinary and mixology offerings in unique destinations that include premium movie theaters, restaurants and lounges. The debtors’ restaurant concepts include: (1) The Tuck Room, a “drinking and dining den” with locations in Florida, New York, and Texas; (2) The Tuck Room Tavern, which serves “Craveable American Cuisine” in Los Angeles; (3) Tanzy Restaurant, offering modern Italian dining in Florida and Arizona; and (4) City Perch Kitchen + Bar, with seasonal American dining in Maryland, New Jersey and New York.

After achieving double-digit growth supported by its unique offerings and market position, new market entrants and competitive pricing slowed iPic’s growth.  Although demand for shares following iPic’s 2018 IPO was “strong,” the situation was compounded when institutional investors could not fund their commitment to the offering, with the total capital raised of $17 million insufficient to fund continuing development. But the company believes that its underlying business model remains strong, “bolstered by positive guest experience and loyalty.”

A Fast, “Naked” Auction

iPic is going forward with a “naked” auction at this time, with no stalking-horse bidder in hand.  If a stalking-horse offer (e.g., opening bid) is presented before the auction, it appears that it may be possible to negotiate for typical stalking-horse protections such as expense reimbursements and break-up fees. iPic is seeking approval of a 90-day marketing process, with a proposed bid deadline of October 11, 2019 and a sale closing by the first week of November. No minimum bid has been established. The company reports store-level EBITDA of $15.06 million for the year ended December 31, 2018, and roughly $160 million in assets at book value.

The iPic Bankruptcy Docket

iPic’s claims agent is maintaining a public website with information about the case.

Additional Information

Fox Rothschild is monitoring the situation.  If you are interested in more information about the auction and the bid process, we are available to assist.

Mette H. Kurth

Lolli & Pops Parachutes Into Bankruptcy

tandem-skydivers-skydivers-teamwork-cooperation-39608After a costly expansion plan in the midst of a challenging retail environment, and hampered by significant distribution costs and inventory management issues, Mishti Holdings, owner and operator of roughly 70 Lolli & Pops upscale candy stores across the country, has entered bankruptcy in free fall.

 

Facing a liquidity crisis and unmanageable trade debt, Lolli & Pops unilaterally suspended rent payments beginning in May of 2019. Its landlords did not take kindly to that decision, and beginning in July 2019 they began declaring defaults and taking court action to evict their tenant from certain store locations. In early August landlords for seven Texas and one Idaho location locked the company out, demanding payment of back rent. And on August 11, 2019, the company permanently closed its 10 Candyopolis store locations.

 

The plan for the bankruptcy case…? At present,there does not appear to be a plan.

 

Mette K.

 

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