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Romano's Macaroni Grill files for bankruptcy protection

The parent of a slimmed-down Romano’s Macaroni Grill filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection today, marking the latest downturn for the troubled casual-dining brand.

Executives of the chain said they would use the timeout to vacate leases for 37 shuttered locations. Nishant Machado, CEO of the brand since May, told the Denver Business Journal that the operation would not seek to renegotiate any contracts other than the leases. He asserted that Mac Grills still in operation last month outperformed the restaurant industry as a whole.

The filing by parent Mac Acquisition is the latest in a string of downturns for the concept. Developed 29 years ago by serial concept creator Phil Romano for Brinker International, Mac Grill featured such innovations as an honor system wine-serving setup, where patrons filled glasses from a jug on their table and then told the server how much they'd consumed. Crayons were provided for patrons to draw on the white paper tablecloths, and the waitstaff would hoot and cheer if anyone accidentally dropped a plate.

Brinker, the parent of Chili's and Maggiano's, sold a controlling interest in the chain to the private-equity firm Golden Gate Capital in 2007. Mac Grill then extended to 280 locations.  

Golden Gate exited the brand in 2013 with a sale to Joe’s Crab Shack parent Ignite Restaurant Group for $55 million. The concept was seen as an early step in Ignite’s plan to become a casual-dining giant with a variety of brands.

Instead, Romano’s sucked capital and attention from Ignite, leading to a management changeover and a wholesale closing of stores. After operating the Italian chain for just two years, Ignite sold it for $8 million in 2015 to a Denver-based investment group.

At that time, the chain had been cut to 146 locations. The Business Journal said 93 stores are currently still in operation.

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