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Arigato Japanese Steak House files for Chapter 11 protection

Chef Q Nguyen prepares a flaming Japanese meal at Arigato Japanese Steak House in St. Petersburg, which will remain open.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times (2007)

Chef Q Nguyen prepares a flaming Japanese meal at Arigato Japanese Steak House in St. Petersburg, which will remain open.

After 30 years in the Tampa Bay area, Arigato Japanese Steak House Inc. sought bankruptcy protection Wednesday. The company blamed slowed sales and a fire that closed its Tampa location.

"We just need a little bit of time," said Dale Del Bello, president and owner of the company.

Del Bello founded the chain in upstate New York in 1971, and opened his first Florida restaurant in 1978. He sold off the New York restaurants to focus on Florida, opening locations in Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa.

The Clearwater and St. Petersburg Arigato locations, which employ more than 110 people combined, will remain open as the company tries to restructure its debts under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The company started having cash-flow problems after a December 2006 fire closed its restaurant on N Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa.

With the closing, the chain lost a third of its income, or about $600,000 a year in profits, Del Bello said. He has been trying to rebuild at a nearby location, but said the insurance company has been slow to pay his claim and still owes him $100,000.

"The insurance company just hasn't been there to help like they're supposed to," he said.

The company listed $760,000 in debts, including $98,000 in overdue taxes. Del Bello said he's confident that he can stabilize the company and weather the gloomy economy once the Tampa location opens and the tourist season begins.

This month he pulled out of a deal to open an aviation-themed restaurant at Albert Whitted Airport, citing the troubled economy and the Tampa Bay Rays' failed downtown stadium plan.

"The strength of the better restaurants will come through, and we've been here for 30 years," he said. "I think we'll be fine. I know we'll be fine."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Asjylyn Loder can be reached at aloder@sptimes.com or (813) 225-3117.

Arigato Japanese Steak House files for Chapter 11 protection 09/25/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 2, 2008 10:45am]
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