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Amid tough times for buffets, east-side Ryan's will stay open

Saturday, February 23 2008 12:00 AM
By Bill Wilson
The Wichita Eagle

The Ryan's Grill, Buffet and Bakery on West Kellogg has been sold to local developers who plan to build a hotel on the site. The sale price was $1.1 million, according to the sale's broker, Brad Saville, president of Landmark Commercial Real Estate. Saville wouldn't immediately identify the developers.

Landmark marketed the property for the past year, Saville said.

Ryan's parent company, Minnesota-based Buffets Holdings Inc., said the national economic slowdown forced it into bankruptcy Jan. 22, when it filed for Chapter 11 reorganization. The company also owns a Ryan's on North Rock Road and Hometown Buffet on West Central.

Company spokeswoman Victoria Weld said the chain is closing 50 "poor performing" locations as part of the reorganization.

She wouldn't say if any Wichita restaurants are on that list.

However, officials at the North Ryan's on Rock Road said Friday afternoon that their restaurant is meeting sales goals. A Hometown manager said she was unaware of any changes.

Buffets Holdings isn't the only casual-dining restaurant chain worried about performance, said Jon Rolph, executive vice president of Wichita's Sasnak Management, which operates Carlos O'Kelly's and Applebee's restaurants.

"We're all in the same boat," he said. "All the research across the industry shows that pretty clearly."

Studies show that casual restaurant traffic is down 3.1 percent since the economic downturn began last summer. About 2 percent of the traffic is "trading down to fast food," Rolph said.

Don Sayler, president of the Kansas Restaurant and Hospitality Association, said Rolph is right.

"It's not a lot, but people aren't eating out quite as often or as much," Sayler said.

Plus, with the rising cost of food, Sayler said buffets face the biggest challenges in the casual dining industry.

He called them a "tough business model to succeed with" in tight economic times.

Rolph said his company plans to attack the downturn aggressively.

"We've been on the road for the last three days, and the message we're giving our managers is that
this is a down cycle," he said.

"We're well positioned for that. We have a great staff, and we're good operators. I think that what you're seeing with Buffets is that the companies positioned for growth are the ones that are going to survive. We'll come out of this and grow."

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