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VOL. 124 | NO. 193 | Thursday, October 1, 2009

Red Rooster Joins List of Shuttered Restaurants

By Tom Wilemon

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GONE AWAY: The “for lease” notice in the window at Bruno’s is a sign of the times for many Memphis restaurants that have closed during a prolonged recession. The Midtown restaurant on Madison Avenue opened in 2007. -- PHOTO BY TOM WILEMON

The Red Rooster flew the coop.

The Downtown corner where the giant bird once stood in front of his restaurant and bar is now a vacant space. A sign posted on the door states an announcement is coming soon about a new location.

Several Downtown restaurants have closed during the prolonged recession, but the departure of this one involves the bankruptcy issues of its landlord. The Red Rooster closed after a judge dismissed the bankruptcy case of Lee’s Landing Commercial LLC.

The Red Rooster closed the same week the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case of Lee’s Landing Commercial was officially closed and dismissed.

Three entities have Lee’s Landing in their names, according to the court documents. Lee’s Landing Garage LLC is the ownership entity for the block-long development near Beale Street. Lee’s Landing Commercial, which filed for bankruptcy, had control over a portion of that space. A third entity called 140 Lee’s Landing LLC operated the Red Rooster restaurant through a sublease.

Nothing to crow about

Judge Jennie D. Latta dismissed the bankruptcy case because Lee’s Landing Commercial “failed to file monthly operating reports and pay quarterly fees as required by the bankruptcy law and rules.”

The court earlier had granted a motion allowing Seedco Financial, which had loaned $1.46 million to Lee’s Landing Commercial LLC, to start collecting rent on the property. The same order allowed Lee’s Landing Garage LLC to retain ownership.

There are plans to reopen Red Rooster at another location, according to a sign on the door as well as postings on the restaurants’ Facebook and MySpace pages.

“The Red Rooster is crowing about his new and better barnyard!” the sign reads on the door at the corner of Second Street and Lt. George W. Lee Avenue. “Watch for updates next week about our expansion and new locations!”

Attempts to reach Red Rooster representatives were not successful.

Andy Kitsinger, vice president of planning and development for the Center City Commission, said the owners of Red Rooster could not reach an agreement on renegotiated lease payments.

“Red Rooster, I understand, was financially viable and making it work under their previous terms, but couldn’t make it work with the new offers,” Kitsinger said.

Beaten path

The Red Rooster follows other restaurants that have closed or left Downtown.

Encore, a bistro in Peabody Place, served its last meal the same week the Red Rooster closed. Other Downtown restaurants and bars that have closed recently include LoLo’s Table, Pat O’Brien’s and a Starbucks.

Restaurants have also closed in other parts of the city. Bruno’s now has a for lease sign in the window at its Midtown location on Madison Avenue.

“Restaurants have actually been feeling it for a while,” Kitsinger said. “The economy has hit restaurants hard nationally. You know, a lot of people have been eating at home … and going out less to restaurants.”

Mike Miller, the president of the Memphis Restaurant Association, said he thinks the worst might be over for restaurants, as new ones open to replace those that have closed. For instance, South of Beale just opened Downtown. Existing ones, such as the Happy Mexican, are branching out with new locations.

“My general sense of it is that earlier in the year was definitely when we saw a lot of closings,” Miller said. “This comes from talking to liquor representatives who sell to people as well as other vendors, and personal knowledge. It seems to me that, even though there are restaurants continuing to close, it has slowed down.”

PROPERTY SALES 50 389 12,758
MORTGAGES 21 248 8,003
BUILDING PERMITS 295 813 29,934
BANKRUPTCIES 35 164 6,064