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All but four Shells restaurants close

Shells Seafood Restaurants Inc., a Tampa Bay mainstay, closed its 10 remaining restaurants Wednesday and told the courts that it plans to permanently shutter the once iconic chain.

The company abandoned Chapter 11 restructuring plans announced early this month, opting instead to close after "exhausting its potential options," according to bankruptcy filings made Wednesday. Unable to secure enough cash and credit to stay open, the company on Wednesday filed for Chapter 7 liquidation.

Restaurants in St. Pete Beach, Brandon, Clearwater and Redington Shores were among those closed Wednesday. Four Shells restaurants that are independently owned, including two original branches in Tampa and another in Sarasota, are not part of the corporate bankruptcy and will remain open.

The chain, which once had 45 restaurants throughout the United States, suffered a steep decline this year. Revenue dived 22 percent in the quarter ending June 29, and the company said in August that there were questions about its ability "to continue as a going concern."

Company officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday. A note on the door of the closed Brandon location thanked guests for their patronage and advised employees with questions about their paychecks to call company headquarters.

Co-founder and owner Deborah Christen opened the first restaurant in 1985 with her then-husband John Christen, a Swiss gourmet chef. Shells earned a following with no-frills restaurants, bare tables and simple, fresh seafood dishes. The couple opened a second location in Tampa and a third in Sarasota.

Shells Seafood Restaurants Inc. took the concept public in 1993, expanding into the Midwest.

Deborah Christen said she's looking forward to taking the restaurant "back to where we began," and plans to unveil a new menu in November.

Times staff writers Mark Albright and Jan Wesner and Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Asjylyn Loder can be reached at aloder@sptimes.com or (813) 225-3117.

.Fast facts

Still Shells, and still open

Four Shells locations are independently owned and not part of the corporate bankruptcy, including one in Melbourne and the three original locations in Tampa and Sarasota. Deborah Christen, owner and co-founder of the three original stores, said the remaining stores will soon restore signature favorites.

• South Tampa Shells, 202 S Dale Mabry Highway, (813) 875-3467.

• North Tampa Shells, 11010 N 30th St., (813) 977-8456.

• Sarasota Shells, 7253 S Tamiami Trail, (941) 924-2568.

All but four Shells restaurants close 09/24/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 29, 2008 6:44pm]
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