SUN PHOTO/PAT COPELAND
Some Shells employees learned of the closing
after reading this sign on the front door.
HOLMES BEACH – When Mary Ann Speciale and Andrea Smith, from Hair’s to You salon, walked to Shells for lunch Wednesday, they were shocked to find the restaurant closed and a sign on the door announcing the closing.
"We were so disappointed," Speciale said. "We ate there a couple times a week. They recently remodeled it and it was really pretty. I don’t think the employees knew it was coming."
Shells abruptly closed eight of its 18 restaurants in Florida Wednesday, including the one on the Island in Holmes Beach.
The announcement came without any advance notice to employees, according to workers at the Holmes Beach location.
A statement from the company’s corporate headquarters in Tampa said, "Shells Seafood Restaurants announced that it has filed a voluntary petition for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Shells owns 18 restaurants with a partial interest in two additional restaurants, but today closed operations at eight locations."
In addition to the Island location, the company closed restaurants in Ocala, Winter Park, Orlando, Kissimmee, Winter Haven, St. Petersburg and Ft. Myers. The 10 remaining restaurants will continue to operate.
Disappointed and saddened employees said Friday they had been told that afternoon by management to come to the Holmes Beach restaurant to collect their final paychecks.
When they got there, however, they were told that the checks were being mailed to them and that they should arrive by next Friday. They also were told not to talk to the media and, as they arrived, were quickly ushered inside by management, who locked the front door behind them.
However, many in the group met later at the Anchor Inn bar to talk over the situation and say their last farewells to one another.
"Most of us are still in shock about the whole thing because we had become the number one store in the chain," said server Brian Huffman. "We are like a family here. I was in tears most of Wednesday."
Another server, who identified herself as Kathy, said she learned of the closing when she showed up in uniform for work Wednesday and read the sign on the door.
"I guess I’m one of the lucky ones," she said, "because I have another job."
One employee said she is scrambling to find employment.
"This is the worst time of year to find a job around here," said Shea, a single mother of two. "Nobody wants to hire you in the off season."
Shells Chief Executive Officer Marc Bernstein said in the company’s statement that the struggling economy played a role in the closings.
"The restaurant industry has been negatively affected by the economic downturn, as recently reflected by the closings of Bennigan’s and Steak and Ale restaurant chains," Bernstein said. "This downturn has affected some of the marginal stores operated by Shells and necessitated the Chapter 11 filings and store closings.
"The ten remaining restaurants have the strongest historical performance or the greatest potential for the future. It is our goal to emerge from Chapter 11 as soon as we can with a capital structure and a balance sheet that will allow us to continue to operate."
Reaction to the closing among former patrons of the restaurant was uniformly one of surprise.
"We were really sad when we heard the news," said Margie Motzer, a Shells regular with her husband, Dick. "We loved the staff and the new menu. They had the best clam chowder on the Island.
"I don’t like losing another restaurant on the Island," she added.
Jim Archer, of Bradenton Beach, said his family dined at the Holmes Beach Shells a couple of days before it closed.
"I heard the report of the closing on the news," he said. "I was surprised. When we ate there the people were nice, the place was clean and the food was decent."
AMI Chamber of Commerce Director Mary Ann Brockman said, "I was pretty much taken aback. I feel sorry for people who had jobs there. I think it was a corporate issue. They overdid it. It’s very unfortunate that it happened."