PORT RICHEY — By Monday afternoon, its signs were gone. Only a note was left on the door.
Sorry, mates: Outback Steakhouse on Monday closed its Port Richey location.
The restaurant, which opened in 1990 at the strip mall at U.S. 19 and Regency Park Boulevard, was once one of the hottest places in Pasco on a weekend night. Two-hour waits were not uncommon.
No doubt that picture has changed, not only as casual dining restaurants have taken a hit during the recession but also as population growth, money and new construction shifted to other parts of the county during the housing boom.
OSI Restaurant Partners LLC, the Tampa-based parent company, did not respond to questions about the reasons for the closure, releasing only a written statement.
"On behalf of all of us at the restaurant, we want to express our appreciation to our loyal patrons in Port Richey for their support and patronage over the past twelve years," said Pete May, joint venture partner of Outback Steakhouse in the Tampa Bay area.
According to May, the company will work with the employees to relocate them to one of the other company restaurants in the area.
OSI Restaurant Partners, the homegrown Tampa chain that in two decades grew into one of the nation's most popular and influential restaurant companies, has been struggling with its debt and recently hired a turnaround specialist to help cut costs and boost sales.
Like many restaurants, Outback has suffered through the recession. OSI sales for the year dropped 5 percent in 2008 to $3.9 billion. But the trend got worse in the fourth quarter that ended Dec. 31 when sales plunged 10 percent.
An OSI spokeswoman said Monday that the Port Richey location was the only Tampa Bay area restaurant on the chopping block. Last month, the chain closed all nine of its company-owned stores in Ontario.
The Port Richey location was situated between Outback restaurants in Trinity and Spring Hill, two areas that experienced booms in recent years.
The U.S. 19 strip mall where Outback was located was known as the Outback Plaza. Other restaurants in that mall came and went, with some of them complaining that Outback's customers took up all the parking spaces.
Another OSI-owned restaurant, Carrabba's Italian Grill, is also in that plaza, along with the Breakfast Club, El Rancho and Lanna Thai.
Monday's closure of the Port Richey location was unceremonious at best. In a matter of hours, workers had removed most of the evidence that Outback had existed. The corporate Web site no longer lists the location.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.