A Long Island-based Friendly’s franchisee, part of the ice cream and burger chain, has started reopening local restaurants after emerging from bankruptcy and closing nearly a dozen local restaurants.
“We’re excited about reclaiming the Long Island family dining sector,” said J&B Restaurant Partners of Long Island LLC franchise owner Joe Vitrano, adding Friendly’s has been on the Island for more than 40 years. “Friendly’s brings families together for special events. We’re a place for children and seniors to come.”
J&B, the exclusive Friendly’s franchisee in Nassau and Suffolk counties, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January 2015. The Bohemia-based company’s filing was part of a pre-negotiated restructuring plan that allowed it to shut down unprofitable restaurants and reduce its debts, which totaled $14.6 million at the time. All the J&B restaurants officially emerged from bankruptcy in September.
In early 2011, J&B operated 32 locations on Long Island. But in the past two years, the company closed 11 restaurants here.
Vitrano called the process a “reorganization,” saying, “We were unable to negotiate rents. Unfortunately, those longtime leases came up, and we tried to negotiate some leases.”
Under Chapter 11, companies can reorganize their operations, break long-term leases without major penalties, and renegotiate their debt with lenders, said bankruptcy expert Chuck Tatelbaum, partner at Fort Lauderdale-based law firm Tripp Scott.
“It has become a nationwide business tool for retailers and other places that have several locations to file for bankruptcy,” Tatelbaum said. “Many retailers have done this to close unprofitable locations and do what is necessary to make profitable ones work, for example, remodeling.”
Throughout the bankruptcy, 18 J&B Friendly’s restaurants on Long Island and six in New Jersey remained open. The chain employs more than 1,100 in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
The company’s remodeled restaurants feature a retro diner look. Last month, to celebrate the remodeling of its Commack and Sayville locations, Friendly’s welcomed back diners with an Original Burger and 10-ounce Fribble shake for $2.
This year J&B plans to remodel its locations in Riverhead, Baldwin, East Meadow, Lake Ronkonkoma and East Islip. It also plans to open by June a Friendly’s in Medford, which closed after a fire in 2014. Then in 2017 it will remodel its remaining locations.
“We plan to look for some more locations,” Vitrano said.
The J&B bankruptcy filing did not affect the national Friendly’s company, based in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, that produces Friendly’s branded ice cream. Founded in 1935, the national Friendly’s had filed for bankruptcy in October 2011 because, like J&B, it had taken on too much debt and had some unprofitable locations. The national company emerged from bankruptcy in January 2012.