business

Whatever Happened to Bennigan's Restaurants?

A new owner is trying to revive the chain after the once-popular fern bar nearly disappeared.

Remember Bennigan's, the Irish-themed bar and grill best known for its happy hours? If you do, you're not alone. The once-popular Bennigan's used to pack 'em in after work. But after a rocky run, the classic restaurant chain nearly collapsed. Notice that we say "nearly." Today, Bennigan's is in the midst of a dramatic comeback. Take a nostalgic trip down memory lane with your taste buds to learn more about the restaurant's fate.

The back story: Bennigan's (as well as Steak and Ale) was created in Atlanta by legendary Dallas restaurateur Norman Brinker for the Pillsbury Corp. and later sold to other owners.

Known for its happy hours more than its food, the chain's sudden near-collapse in 2008 was epic: Its owner filed for Chapter 7 liquidation, shuttering the 150 corporate-owned restaurants overnight (more than 100 franchises survived), as well as all of the Steak and Ale restaurants. Two years earlier, it had closed all of its New York state and Connecticut locations.

Analysts said Bennigan's failed to distinguish itself from other fern bar players, including T.G.I. Fridays and Ruby Tuesday, and couldn't muster loyalty. Though it was an Irish-themed restaurant, its menu was similar to competitors: steak, tempura shrimp and Southwestern-style appetizers. (Need a refresher? Here's a Bennigan's commercial from 1993.)

"All these bar and grill concepts are very, very similar," Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Technomic, a restaurant industry consulting group, told The New York Times in 2008. "They have the same kind of menu, décor, appeal."

There are currently 15 Bennigan's restaurants in the U.S. and 18 in Mexico, South America and the Middle East. The current Bennigan's are owned by Dallas-based Legendary Restaurant Brands, which is reviving Bennigan's (it also owns the Steak and Ale chain, which it's also trying to salvage).

Learn the fates of 13 more classic restaurant chains including Chi-Chi's, Beefsteak Charlie's and Howard Johnson's.

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