Financing

A small Florida chain files for bankruptcy and blames the pandemic

Icebox Cafe, which operates four restaurants plus some vending machines, said dealings with “aggressive lenders” had a role in its filing.
restaurant bankruptcy
Icebox Cafe filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this month. | Photo: Shutterstock

Icebox Cafe, a small Florida-based chain that operates both restaurants and vending machine businesses, declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this month, saying the pandemic-related closures led to a dependence upon “aggressive lenders” that ultimately led to its downfall.

The company, which has been around for 25 years, operates four restaurants: a grab-and-go operation called Fig & Fennel at the Miami airport; the Icebox Cafe, a takeout-focused concept at the airport; and two full-service restaurants, in Miami Beach and Hallandale, Fla. It also operates a trio of commissaries for vending machines, including some located at the University of Central Florida.

Icebox Cafe has a wide range of debt, including four SBA loans worth about $4 million with Newtek Small Business Finance; a line of credit with TD Bank; and several Economic Injury Disaster Loans.

But it also has loans with several other lenders, including some merchant cash advance companies, according to court documents, such as $657,000 in debt to the “fast funding” company The LCF Group that is listed as “disputed.”

Robert Siegmann founded Icebox in 1998. The company 20 years later was targeted by the Florida attorney general after it could not back up claims that it bought lettuce from local farms, while calling itself a “farm-to-table” concept.

In a filing, Siegmann said the company’s bankruptcy followed “harsh operational losses” stemming from a decline in customers after the pandemic.

COVID-19 led to the closure of dine-in service and a near-halt in travel. Siegmann said the company fell behind on its loan obligations, ultimately leading Icebox to take out merchant cash advances to pay its bills.

Icebox says it plans to use the bankruptcy process to raise funds or find a strategic transaction. It also plans to negotiate with Newtek over its small business loans.

Several restaurant chains filed for bankruptcy during the pandemic, and a few others have filed in the aftermath amid high labor and food costs and as more lenders or landlords demand payment after giving operators a break.

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