“Gastrobar” chain Bar Louie, which was founded in Chicago 30 years ago and is now based in Texas, closed 38 corporate-owned locations, including two in the Chicago area, over the weekend and has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, according to the Tribune and multiple other reports. Bar Louies in River North and in suburban Naperville were reportedly shuttered due to “accelerating” declines in sales.
The Chapter 11 filing shows the company is more than $100 million in debt, but has also gotten lenders to sign on to bid on assets to secure a sale should no one enter a higher offer — the minimum bid is priced at $82.5 million, plus assumed liabilities.
The original Bar Louie was founded in 1990 on West Chicago Avenue, and over time expanded to 134 locations in 26 states. The chain is known for a dark, tavern-style atmosphere and menu of burgers, sandwiches, and other bar-friendly fare as well as beer and liquor. Private equity firm Sun Capital Partners acquired Bar Louie in 2010. The company placed many locations inside or near malls, which have also seen a steep decline in recent years — a quarter of U.S. malls are expected to close by 2022, according to the Washington Post. The company closed a suburban Oak Park location in March.
In Chicago, Bar Louie locations had a line of run-ins with Mayor Daley’s Dumpster Task Force and the city’s Department of Health. Past violations included “unpleasantness in the fly and rodent area” and more than 1,000 rat droppings found in the basement, which unsurprisingly lead to some temporary shutters. Bar Louie still operates locations in Printer’s Row, University Village, and Hyde Park, as well as a handful of suburban spots, according to its website. 24 franchised locations will not be affected by the sweeping closures.
A number of other national chains have extracted themselves from Chicago in recent months: American Chinese giant P.F. Chang’s closed its last remaining restaurant within city limits, but also plans to launch a number of “To Go” locations in Chicago. Earlier this month, California Pizza Kitchen also closed its only Chicago location, which was inside River North’s the Shops at North Bridge. Some chains, like Starbucks, have moved to expand their Chicago footprint with flashy new destinations, while previously established companies continue to slip away.