01/15/10 — Steakhouse closes in city after more than a decade

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Steakhouse closes in city after more than a decade

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 15, 2010 1:46 PM

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Phillip Teachey, an employee of Goldsboro Neon Sign, controls a crane Thursday morning as it lowers the sign at Ryan's Family Steak House. The restaurant closed Wednesday.

Ryan's Family Steak House employees arrived for a Thursday morning meeting prior to reporting to work only to be told that the restaurant was being shuttered after 14 years of operation at its North Berkeley Boulevard site.

Mark Brauner, area director for the franchise, said employees probably suspected what was coming.

He blamed the recession for the declines in sales and customers that led to the closing.

"With the recession, we just lost some guest count, and we couldn't renegotiate the lease. With what we were doing with sales and what our rent was and fixed costs, we just could not make it work," he said. "We really gave it our best. We changed our menu and dropped our prices. One of the things we have done as a company, we are trying to do value."

For instance, breakfast used to be $6.95, but was dropped to $4.99. It was the same thing at lunch, which cost $4.99, and dinner, which was $8.49 down from around $9.99.

"We just didn't gain enough guest count to make up the difference in our pricing structure," he said. "When the recession started two years ago, we noticed a dramatic drop in guest count, and that is true for restaurants in general. I have experienced the same guest drop count in most of my restaurants.

"However, I was doing more sales and customers, so if I took a 20 percent off, it wasn't a big deal because I was still doing so well. This store lost 20 percent and that was pure what we lost in bottom-line profit."

Brauner said the building is a held lease, adding that he didn't know who owned it and had no idea what would happen to it. He said he was unable to renegotiate the rent down in a cost-cutting attempt.

Another factor in the decline could be the growing number of restaurants in the city, he said.

"There is a point where you get saturation, and I think we might be there," he said. "That is all speculative."

Wednesday was the final day of operation said Braun-er, who is headquartered in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

"They told me four days ago, and we told the management team," he said. "We didn't tell the team members until this morning. We let them know we were having a meeting and we had somebody here to go over their benefits and severance package.

"I think they sort of expected it. There were a couple of little signs, like boxes showing up to pack up our computers. Stuff like that. I think they sort of knew."

All of the employees received severance packages and the two managers found jobs elsewhere in the company, Brauner said.

"If you had been with us a year you got two weeks' severance," he said. "You got a week's severance pay for every year you worked here. You got two weeks automatically, and we gave them their entire benefits package.

"We have offered the people who live south to actually transfer them to Fayetteville so they can have employment, but some of the people, we just had to give them a severance package because they just couldn't drive or didn't live close enough to Fayetteville."

The restaurant employed 25 people in addition to the two managers.

"I think the big thing I wanted to express to (the employees) was how awesome they were," he said. "I really felt like in the last year, I have only had this restaurant for about a year and a half, and in the last year they have made all kinds of improvements from food quality to service.

"They just did a great job. We just ran out of time, and I expressed that. The crew here was really great. We are going to miss our loyal customers, but we just couldn't make it work financially."

Brauner said he did not know when and if the company would begin franchising again and return to Goldsboro. Such franchising probably would be three or more years away, he said.

"I have been in the restaurant business since I was 19 years old, and I am 42. The last two years have been the toughest that I have seen in the restaurant business through the recession," he said. "It is just hard. A year ago, our guest count was down, and this is a guess, 20 percent. This past week we were only 3 percent down in guest count. We improved 17 percent in that arena.

"Here is the thing though, I have seen it change since December-January, where guest counts were starting to pick back up so I think we are through the worst of it. I think 2010 will be an improved year. I just think that we ran out of time here. I think that if I had another year I could have made this work, but I didn't have another year. I just want to say thank you to the customers we have had since 1996, some of whom ate here every day."