News That's Hard to Swallow: Bye-Bye, Bennigan's. Put a Fork in Steak & Ale.

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Sounds like Plano-based Metromedia Restaurant Group got tired of trying to fix Bennigan's and went ahead and just shut 'em all down -- in the middle of the night, no less. Also gone, though with far less fanfare this morning: MRG's Steak & Ale. At least, when I just called the Steak & Ale location on LBJ Freeway, I was greeted with the message: "This location is now closed for business. We thank you for your continued patronage." It then offered a phone number: 1-800-727-8355. Which, turns out, is a generic MRG recording.

Actually, from the sound of it, all Metromedia-owned restaurants, including Bonanza and Ponderosa andthe Southlake Tavern and the Plano Tavern, are closed -- so said the kind and very bummed-out gentleman who answered the phone at Fort Worth's 29 Degree Tavern, which opened in February 2007 and was also closed this morning. He told Unfair Park that all Metromedia properties are being shuttered; franchises may still be open, for the moment. The woman who answered the phone at Southlake Tavern passed us on to another woman, who, when asked if the restaurant was still open, said only, "We have no comment, sir," then hung up. Attempts to reach Metromedia spokesperson Leah Templeton have been unsuccessful this morning. Update: The company has issued a statement, and we've seen the legal documents.

It reads:

"S & A Restaurant Corp. and certain affiliates have filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy code. The companies that filed bankruptcy cases are popularly known as Steak & Ale, Bennigan's and Tavern restaurants. However, not all stores using these trade names have filed bankruptcy. For example, stores operated by franchisees are not named as debtors in these filings. The filing does not include Ponderosa and Bonanza which operate under Metromedia Steakhouses Company, L.P.

It is our understanding the Michelle Chow will be appointed as Chapter 7 trustee for the entities that have filed. These are filed as liquidation cases. Future decisions regarding the affairs of the debtor companies will be determined and administered by the trustee.

If you wish to file a claim, the form Proof of Claim can be found online."

Mike Sutherland, the Dallas attorney representing those certain affiliates, among them Bennigan's Gift Card, Inc. and Bennigan's of Maryland, was out of the office this morning and unavailable for comment.

Back in November, MRG announced the new stripped-down Bennigan's called the Bennigan's Quick Grill; that didn't do it. Then, in April, it went to the five-dollar lunch menu, another apparent failure to lure in the quick, casual fare-seeker. So, what, that's 150 restaurants gone just like that? Probably should have seen this coming.--Robert Wilonsky

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