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FoodFirst, parent company of Brio and Bravo, files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

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Posted at 10:23 PM, Apr 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-13 22:24:23-04

FoodFirst, the parent company of Brio Italian Mediterranean and Bravo Fresh Italian, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Friday as coronavirus closings strained the company.

Locally, Brio has locations at Newport on the Levee and the Liberty Center in Liberty Township. Bravo has restaurants in Mason on Deerfield Boulevard and West Chester on Waterfront Drive.

Company leaders had already been reviewing "underperforming" locations for potential closure leading up to the filing, but have made no announcements regarding Tri-State restaurants.

Created in May 2018, Foodfirst acquired Brio Tuscan Grille and Bravo Cucina Italiana, in a $100 million transaction. The company renamed the chains Brio Italian Mediterranean and BRAVO Fresh Italian, respectively.

Before that, the restaurants incurred "significant amounts of debt, some of which carried costly terms" as they expanded between 2006 and 2010, according to the Friday filing. At the end of 2013, there were 107 Brio and Bravo locations.

But the rise of fast-casual options "resulted in consistent customer declines at the Restaurants between 2013 and 2018," the company said.

Though the company aimed for a refresh by updating menus and remodeling locations, the changes "did not yield the results expected," and annual sales in 2019 were $307 million, "significantly below expectations."

In 2020, FoodFirst leadership and incoming CEO Steven Layt had looked at streamlining operations by evaluating underperforming locations. The company already closed 10 restaurants in January and a "substantial number" of locations were under review.

But that process was "radically altered" by the recent COVID-19 pandemic as states closed dining rooms and implemented stay-at-home mandates to curb the spread of the virus. As of Friday, the company employed approximately 120 hourly and salaried employees.

About 20 FoodFirst restaurants have leases expiring in 2020, and more than 70 have leases expiring by 2028.

"FoodFirst will continue to closely monitor the Restaurants performance during the Pandemic and the assorted State shelter-in-place orders to determine which locations remain viable," the company wrote in its filing.

In order to save jobs and viable restaurants, the company said "it will be necessary to pursue a company sale and an accompanying Management Services agreement."