The Bohemia-based company that operates 18 Friendly's restaurants on Long Island, an iconic chain for many residents, filed for bankruptcy protection Tuesday.
It was unclear what impact the filing by J & B Restaurant Partners of Long Island II LLC, a Friendly's franchisee, would have on the company's Long Island eateries or its employees.
An attorney for J & B, Michael Cooley, declined to comment Tuesday.
J & B filed for Chapter 11 in federal court in White Plains. Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code allows a company to renegotiate its debts or sell off its assets, said Gary Fischoff, a Woodbury-based bankruptcy attorney who is not involved in the court case. It's possible that the local Friendly's restaurants will continue to operate despite the bankruptcy filing, Fischoff said.
The filing came a day after J & B shuttered its Friendly's location in East Northport. In the past year the company also closed its eateries in Bay Shore, Patchogue, West Babylon, North Babylon, Wantagh, Farmingdale, Copiague, Massapequa, Selden and Hicksville.
J & B's assets have a value of $500,000 to $1 million, and its liabilities are in a range from $10 million to $50 million, according to the company's bankruptcy court documents. It has between 50 and 99 creditors, the documents show.
Court documents listed Joseph Vitrano as the company's president. He could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.
Many Long Islanders have fond memories of gathering at a Friendly's for burgers and sundaes after sports games, play groups or school productions.
"It's so sad," said Suzanne Rose of Northport, after learning that the East Northport Friendly's closed. "I remember going there with my very good friend, her two kids and my two kids. We had the time of our lives."
Across the country, Friendly's has struggled financially as many restaurant-goers seek lighter, healthier fare, said Bret Thorn, senior food editor at Nation's Restaurant News in Manhattan. In 2013 there were 339 Friendly's eateries nationwide, with more than half operated by franchisees like J & B, Thorn said.
The rest were operated by the Massachusetts-based Friendly Ice Cream Corp., which filed for bankruptcy protection in 2011. It emerged from bankruptcy in 2012 after shedding debts and closing 53 locations, Thorn said. Nationally, Friendly's restaurants rang up $406.6 million in sales in 2013, down from $451.2 million the previous year, he said.
Friendly's has "tried to update their menu and get customers back into the restaurant, but they haven't had a huge amount of success," Thorn said.