Emerging Brands

Don Pablo’s, Farrell’s call it quits

The once-promising chains have shuttered their last units.
Photograph: Shutterstock

R.I.P., Don Pablo’s and Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour.

The last remaining branches of the venerable full-service chains have shut down, according to local media reports, marking the end of what were once celebrated concepts. 

Don Pablo’s was founded in 1985, and Farrell’s started in 1963. Both were at one time the jewels of multibrand operators with ambitious expansion plans. 

Don Pablo’s, a Mexican dinner house in the mold of Rio Bravo or On the Border, was acquired in the mid-1990s by Applebee’s mega-franchisee Tom DuPree as a cornerstone of the multibrand operation he intended to establish after pulling out of the Applebee’s system. Along with McCormick & Schmick’s and Hops Restaurant Bar & Brewery, the Mexican chain would serve as an expansion vehicle for Avado Brands, the successor to DuPree’s publicly traded Apple South, which at one time operated about 260 of the 960 units that constituted Applebee’s. Don Pablo’s, with about 120 locations, was the biggest of Avado’s holdings.

The potential was real enough to prompt Applebee’s to diversify into Rio Bravo. What’s now Brinker International also armed itself with a competitor, On the Border.  

But operating high-end seafood restaurants and brewpubs proved more of a challenge than running Applebee’s units. Avado filed for bankruptcy in 2004 and then again about three years later. By that time, Don Pablo’s had contracted to about 45 stores.

It would continue to shrink under its next two owners, Rita Restaurant Corp. and Food Management Partners (FMP), which acquired control of the brand in 2014. Don Pablo’s would file for bankruptcy protection in 2017. FMP finally closed the last store, in Deptford, N.J., on Tuesday. FMP, the parent of the HomeTown, Furr’s and Old Country buffet concepts, did not respond to requests for information on its decision.

Farrell’s was one of the ice cream parlors that sprang up on the West Coast in the 1960s and ‘70s, the Western reflections of East Coast powerhouses Friendly’s and Howard Johnson’s. Founder Bob Farrell sold it to Marriott Corp. in the 1970s, when the lodging giant was building a portfolio of brands such as Big Boy and Roy Rogers. Farrell’s would grow to 120 branches while part of Marriott. 

But sales fell steeply, leading to wholesale closings by Marriott and the brand’s subsequent owner. Most of the units were out of business by 1990, and the stragglers tried to find their footing by changing the name of the brand to Pearl Street.

Nearly two decades later, the winner in a court fight for rights to the Farrell’s brand name tried to revive the brand, building it back to about 15 stores. The brand changed hands again as fodder for “The Profit,” a TV show featuring corporation builder Marcus Lemonis. The former Camping World CEO would seek out operations he could buy and attempt to revive. One episode focused on Farrell’s, and Lemonis dutifully worked to keep the handful of surviving restaurants in operation.

But the brand ran out of steam. The last store, in Brea, Calif., closed on June 8. 

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