Western U.S. restaurant chain Rubio's files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

(Reuters) - Rubio’s Restaurants Inc, which started as a fish taco stand and now operates Rubio’s Coastal Grill in the western United States, filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday, the latest dining chain to succumb during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Carlsbad, California-based company, which is owned by private equity firm Mill Road Capital, is filing a prepackaged restructuring plan that its lenders have already approved with the bankruptcy court in Wilmington, Delaware.

It said the plan would significantly reduce debt, and that it expects to emerge from Chapter 11 by year end.

Rubio’s said it operates and franchises 167 restaurants in California, Arizona and Nevada and employs about 3,400 people, with another 104 on furlough.

The pandemic caused it to shutter 26 underperforming restaurants and exit the Colorado and Florida markets. Rubio’s said it expects to reject some leases where it cannot negotiate concessions from landlords.

“COVID-19 has had a significant impact on Rubio’s,” co-founder Ralph Rubio said in a statement. “This restructuring plan creates the long-term financial stability we need.”

Rubio’s said it has between $50 million and $100 million of assets and between $100 million and $500 million of liabilities.

The company began in 1983 as a walk-up taco stand in the Mission Bay neighborhood of San Diego.

Other dining operators to file for bankruptcy since the pandemic began include California Pizza Kitchen, Chuck E. Cheese parent CEC Entertainment, Le Pain Quotidien, Ruby Tuesday, and the Wendy’s and Pizza Hut franchisee NPC International.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Jan Harvey and Bill Berkrot