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How Ascend Hospitality rescued 5 RUI restaurants slated for closure

The Seattle firm buys properties Landry’s didn't want as other Restaurants Unlimited concepts continue to shutter

Five RUI Holding Corp. restaurants slated for closure Friday have been rescued by Ascend Hospitality Group, which cut a deal to buy the casual dining restaurants in four days.

Bellevue, Wash.-based Ascend, which owns a variety of independent dining concepts and six Famous Dave's Barbecue franchises, is the new owner of four Stanford’s restaurants in Washington and Oregon and the Portland Seafood Company in Portland. The locations were previously operated by Restaurants Unlimited Inc., which filed for bankruptcy protection in July.

Last week, a federal bankruptcy court approved the sale of certain RUI assets to Houston-based Landry’s for $37.2 million. Restaurants Unlimited operated more than 30 restaurants under several banners such as Clinkerdagger, Cutters Crabhouse, Fondi Pizzeria, Henry’s Tavern; Horatio’s, Newport Seafood Grill, Palisade, Palomino, Portland City Grill, Portland Seafood Co., Scott’s Bar and Grill and Stanford’s.

The Landry’s deal, however, did not include the four Stanford’s restaurants and Portland Seafood Company.

Elaina_Herber_President_Ascend_Hospitality_Group.jpgWhen Ascend CEO and president Elaina Herber, left, heard that those restaurants were slated to close, she drove to Portland to check out the restaurants in those locations.

After meeting the staff and reviewing each of the restaurant’s finances, she and her husband worked with the bankruptcy trust to buy the five restaurants over a whirlwind four days. The company saved about 250 jobs.

“There was a lot of hugging on Friday and Saturday,” Herber said in a phone interview with Nation’s Restaurant News.

Ascend did not disclose the purchase price.

Herber said the restaurants are “in great financial standing” and performing well despite having been standardized over the years by RUI.  

“These are not restaurants that you would typically close,” she said.

Ascend plans to refresh the décor and create a more regionalized menu that better reflects each brand’s polished casual roots.

“Our goal is to honor the roots of the brand with a modern twist, so we evolve with our guests,” she said.

Improving the off-premise business at each location, from delivery to catering, is part of that strategy.

“We want to give people a reason to come in, as well as order online and cater,” she said. “But we can’t do that if we are not wowing you. We need to reimplement the wow factor.”

Landry's, which recently bought Texas-based Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group Inc., will continue to operate a Stanford's in Lake Oswego, Ore., according to Ascend.

It’s unclear what other RUI properties Landry’s is keeping as part of the deal. When asked, Landry's would only say it selected the best RUI locations.

“Although Restaurants Unlimited is an iconic restaurant company with unparalleled locations, stretching from Anchorage, Alaska through the Pacific Northwest, nevertheless, it was forced to file bankruptcy due to owning and operating a number of unprofitable restaurants," Steve Scheinthal, executive vice president and general counsel for Landry’s, told NRN late Thursday in a statement. "We selected their top units and are unaware of the disposition of the locations we didn’t take.”

According to various publications, several RUI restaurants have closed over the last few days.

Eater Seattle and have reported closures of two Henry’s Tavern restaurants, two Stanford’s and a Palomino restaurant in Seattle and Portland. Eater San Francisco and Yelp have reported the closures of Kincaid’s Fish, Chop & Steakhouse and Palomino, both in San Francisco.

Stanford's was founded in 1990 by Pacific Coast Restaurants, which merged in 2007 with Seattle-based Restaurants Unlimited. Portland Seafood Company was founded in 2011 by Restaurants Unlimited.

With the purchase of four Stanford’s restaurants and Portland Seafood Company, Ascend has expanded its footprint into Oregon. Herber and her husband Paul founded the hospitality firm in 2017.

“Our company is not huge. We really wanted an Oregon footprint,” she said.

Besides owning Famous Dave's restaurants in Washington and Utah, Ascend also operates premium steak house Ascend Prime Steak & Sushi and Lincoln South Food Hall, both in Bellevue, Wash. The company also owns several fast-casual brands at the food hall including Fat & Feathers, Burger Brawler, Avo-Poke and Barrio Luchador.

Before the July bankruptcy filing, Restaurants Unlimited closed two Palomino locations, in Indianapolis and Bellevue, Wash.; Prime Rib & Chocolate Cake in Portland, Ore.; Henry’s Tavern in Plano, Texas; Stanford’s in Walnut Creek, Calif.; and Portland Seafood Co. in Tigard, Ore.

Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected] 

Follow her on Twitter: @fastfoodmaven

Update, Oct. 3: This story has been edited to include a statement from Landry's.

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