PLYMOUTH, Mich. — For those who loved filet mignon, New York strip, ribs or spicy grilled chicken pasta, Steak and Ale is no more. “The Best Steakhouse in Town” is a thing of the past. The parent company, S&A Restaurant Corp., filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on July 29. All corporate Bennigan’s restaurants have also closed. However, franchised Bennigan’s locations will remain open including four in metro Detroit, among 14 across the state of Michigan that will remain in business.
Steak and Ale was founded in Dallas, Texas on February 26, 1966 by Norman E. Brinker. It remained an independent chain until 1976 when Pillsbury bought it and incorporated it with its other restaurant properties, Bruger King, Bennigan’s and others. In 1982, Pillsbury spun off Steak and Ale and Bennigan’s into the independent S&A Restaurant Corp.
In the mid-1980’s, Steak and Ale reached its peak of 280 locations nationwide. In 1988, Metromedia purchased the chain. In 1993, it merged with the other Metromedia Steak Houses chains Bonanza and Ponderosa, and all three chains were operated under the S&A Restaurant Group brand.
“Bennigan’s Franchising Company, L.P. and Steak & Ale Franchising Company, L.P., the owners of the Bennigan’s and Steak & Ale trademarks and franchise agreements, were not part of the Chapter 7 filing made by its parent company, S&A Restaurant Corp., today. The 138 domestic and international franchisee-owned restaurants remain open and fully operational. Bennigan’s Franchising Company, L.P. and Steak & Ale Franchising Company, L.P. will continue to provide high quality support services to its franchisees and remain focused on maintaining and maximizing the value of the franchise brands for its franchisees and their loyal customers.”
–Bennigan’s Franchising Company, L.P.; Steak & Ale Franchising Company, L.P.
In Plymouth, Mich., Bennigan’s and Steak and Ale are located right next to each other. The Steak and Ale restaurant was in business for 26 years until it closed on July 29. It was always very busy there. At times, there was two or three hostesses. Two weeks ago, the restaurant hosted a party of 50 in its banquet room.
While visiting this location today, there was no signs posted on the building or in the premises. While looking inside the garbage can, there was a piece of paper crumbled up. It read “We will not be open today. Sorry for the inconvenience, 7/29.” There was also an advertisement for another nearby restaurant crumbled up in the trash can.
Representatives from the company were removing items from the inside of the building. They took food and placed them in the back of SUVs that were parked in the rear of the building. They also removed signs and menus from the interior. All of the furniture remained during the time when I was there.
A locksmith was hired to change the lock on the front door. I knocked on the window and one of the representatives opened the door. After identifying myself as a member of the media, she quickly said “No comment”, slammed the door and locked it.
Then, I went next door to the Bennigan’s restaurant that remains open for business. I walked inside and asked to speak to a manager. The hostess went to the back and found the general manager who was willing to speak with us.
“Metromedia Restaurant Group which had quite a few concepts under it filed for bankruptcy,” said Shane Collins, general manager of the Bennigan’s location in Plymouth. “All of the franchises for the Bennigan’s locations are all staying open. The company restaurants are what was affected. There are also a lot of franchises open throughout numerous states. The ones here in Michigan — all of them are staying open.
“We’re owned by LaBelle Management. We also owned some Big Boy’s, some Ponderosas, some hotels, things of that sort. We’re here and we’re here to stay. We’re a strong company and we have no plans of going anywhere. We’ve been around since 1948 so all 14 in Michigan will stay open.”
All employees at Steak and Ale and company-owned Bennigan’s restaurants have lost their jobs. Thousands of people are left with no way to pay their bills and support their families. Managers called their staff and told them not to report to work early last Tuesday.
Popular menu items at Steak and Ale included the signature herb roasted prime rib, kensington club, New York strip, filet mignon and spicy grilled chicken pasta. The restaurant featured unlimited salad bar or a choice of soup with most of its entrees on the dinner menu. It also featured honey wheat bread and drink refills for free. Steak and Ale also offered a lunch menu with many items for $6.99. The restaurant also featured wine samples for only 25 cents.
There was some signs that something was up at Steak and Ale. A big screen TV was removed from the bar area a couple of months ago. An electronic kiosk for customers to sign up for the company’s e-mail newsletter was taken out of the restaurant a few weeks ago. The phone line was disconnected as of last Tuesday at both the Plymouth and Farmington Hills locations.
At the franchise-owned Bennigan’s next door, it is a different story. “Business has been really, really good,” said Collins. “We’ve had a lot of positive press, a lot of good media coverage. The fact that we have a closed restaurant right in front of us helps this location. People that were gonna go there are now coming here instead.”
When asked if people are asking about what happened, Collins said: “We’ve fielded quite a few phone calls saying ‘Are you open? Are you closed?’ Like I said, the answer is yeah, we’re open and we’re not going anywhere.”
Some customers are still going to Steak and Ale with hopes that it is open. I saw numerous cars pull up, park, walk up to the door, try opening it and then take off unsatisfied with an empty stomach.
“The salad bar was the best thing ever,” said Mike Ismair, a former Steak and Ale frequent diner from Livonia, Mich. “The bread was honey wheat roll bread with sesame seeds on it with butter that tasted liked ice cream, it was delicious. I’m very sad to see this corporation close. The prices were really affordable. It was worth it every penny. Now I have to find another restaurant. What am I gonna do? No more Steak and Ale.”
Texas Roadhouse has announced that it will accept giftcards from Steak and Ale. If you are a customer with a giftcard, diners are encouraged to go to the nearest Texas Roadhouse and they will receive a free entree card. The program runs until the end of August.
Texas Roadhouse has five metro Detroit locations including 14660 Pardee Rd. in Taylor, 36750 Ford Rd. in Westland, 27150 23 Mile Rd. in Chesterfield, 29485 John R. Rd in Madison Heights and 44877 Mound Rd. in Sterling Heights.
A day later, Logan’s Roadhouse announced that it would accept unused gift cards from Bennigan’s and Steak and Ale restaurants. Guests will receive a free entree with the purchase of another entree, up to a $15 value when they bring in a gift card from one of the two restaurants. The program runs through the end of the month.
Logan’s Roadhouse has three metro Detroit locations including 28599 Schoolcraft Rd. in Livonia, 13305 Eureka Rd. in Southgate and 86 W. 14 Mile Rd. in Troy. Also, a location at 4404 Miller Rd. in Flint.
All Bennigan’s locations in Michigan are also open along with franchised-owned Bennigan’s restaurants nationwide.