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Culinary Adventures in Calif. files for bankruptcy

SANTA ANA Calif. Culinary Adventures Inc., the upscale casual-dining operator founded by former Taco Bell chief executive John Martin and chef David Wilhelm, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and closed three of its nine restaurants. The company’s concepts include French 75 and Savannah.

The filing came Aug. 14, just days after Wilhelm resigned as president. Chief financial officer Robert Rourke was named acting president.

Attorneys representing the Newport Beach, Calif.-based company blamed skyrocketing food costs and slower customer traffic for the reorganization, which will focus on reviving the chain’s remaining six restaurants, all of which are located in Southern California.

“This was completely driven by the external economy and lack of income to the restaurants,” said John Mark Jennings, an attorney handling the filing.

No reason was given for the departure of Wilhelm, who also was a minority owner of the company. Jennings said it was an amicable parting and unrelated to the bankruptcy. Wilhelm did not return calls for comment.

The three restaurants that closed were Wilhelm’s Chophouse in Irvine, Calif., a Savannah location in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Century City, and a Savannah in Burbank, Calif. It was not clear how many employees were impacted by the closures.

Still open are a French 75 and Sorrento Grille in Laguna Beach; Savannah units in Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa and Laguna Niguel; and French 75 in Newport Beach.

Culinary Adventures was founded in 1997 by Wilhelm and Martin. The company has apparently struggled in recent years, with several of the restaurants changing names or being developed into new concepts. The Savannah location in Century City, for example, was previously a French 75, and Wilhelm opened French bistro concepts called Chat Noir and Rouge Bistro that were later scrapped and renamed.

The largest creditor listed in Culinary Adventure’s filing was the law firm Kingsley & Kingsley, which was owed $212,250 for an unspecified legal settlement. The Encino, Calif.-based firm specializes in wage-and-hour and personal injury cases.

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