Our Cleveland and Bradley County hometown has endured four such significant setbacks in the past month with the shuttering of two popular restaurants, a major national grocery chain and an iconic retailer whose presence as an anchor in Bradley Square Mall will be greatly missed.
We speak of the scheduled closings of Sears in the mall and the cavernous Food Lion site at APD 40, and the already locked restaurants of Moe’s Southwest Grill and Ryan’s. The Ryan’s restaurant was the most recent casualty as just last Friday employees, and luncheon customers, learned of its fate.
As reported by our newspaper on the front page, and supported editorially, a communications campaign to Sears Customer Service endorsed by Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland and the City Council to save the Cleveland affiliate is in the works, but we have received no indication from corporate offices that the endeavor is influencing the prior decision to close.
In all four cases, we are told the decisions to discontinue operations are based primarily on underperformance. This is especially true — apparently — with Sears and Food Lion. A contributing factor, particularly with Ryan’s, is a reported inability to arrive at new lease agreements between parent companies and building owners.
Buffets Inc. of Eagan, Minn., the corporate manager of Ryan’s which is the nation’s largest steak-buffet restaurant company with 494 restaurants in 38 states, reported stalled lease negotiations have led to many of its 81 restaurant closures. The corporation has recently completed a pre-negotiated Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan whose provisions include the closing of 16 percent of its eateries nationwide, and perhaps more could come depending on future negotiations.
Businesses open and businesses close.
This is especially true in the dining industry. It is specifically true in Cleveland which over the past few years has been blessed with the opening of many fine restaurants. Most are sustaining profitable operations in spite of a staggered economy and unprecedented competition.
Some have not enjoyed the same success. Their misfortunes can be tied to many reasons — location, lease squabbles, rising food costs, greater selectivity by area diners and in some cases fewer diners, but increased competition is arguably the biggest factor.
Yet now is not the time to pull back on the reins of expansion. Over the decades, the Cleveland and Bradley County community has show incredible endurance and impressive flexibility in recycling empty buildings or in some cases bulldozing down the old and bringing in the new.
This has occurred with vacated Wal-Mart Stores Inc. properties. It has happened with closed BI-LO groceries. It is currently taking place with the former Oliver’s building.
Unless corporate decisions are reversed with Sears, Ryan’s, Food Lion and Moe’s, we will be saddened by their loss. But with loss comes opportunity. And here is one we would suggest.
It is no secret our rapidly growing city has courted Red Lobster for years. The rumor mill a year ago looked favorably on an agreement. We were already getting Olive Garden, owned by the same Darden parent corporation, and its business since last November’s opening has been overwhelming.
We would ask Darden executives to visit Cleveland again and to consider the prime piece of real estate that once housed Ryan’s.
We would not pretend to be restaurant professionals, but in our opinion the old Ryan’s location is a prime opportunity — not necessarily the existing building, but the property seems perfect for this caliber of eatery.
Cleveland’s choices in dining have never been better. Given our community’s current and future growth, we see a recycling of Ryan’s as an action filled with potential.
We would suggest Red Lobster take a good look because opportunity is knocking.