Applebee's closes its doors in Victoria
By SCOTT REESE WILLEY/VICTORIA ADVOCATE
Oct. 10, 2000 at 5:10 a.m.
Updated Oct. 10, 2013 at 5:10 a.m.
“There wasn’t enough business,” said Paul Merkich. “We didn’t want to close – we did everything we could not to close, we even took a loss – but finally we couldn’t afford to stay open any longer.”
Applebee’s, located at 6409 N. Navarro St., closed after dinner Thursday night. The restaurant, which opened Jan. 23, 1996, was one of seven across South Texas owned by Anthony Alvarez of McAllen.
Merkich said the restaurant had been struggling financially “for some time now.”
“We weren’t doing so well before Bennigan’s opened, but then Chili’s opened and took away some of our business,” he explained. “We couldn’t afford to keep open.
“Now Johnny Carino’s is opening down the street. So we decided the time was right to shut down.”
Bennigan’s opened in March 1998. Chili’s opened last month and Johnny Carino’s opened Monday.
Merkich said the restaurant experimented with the menu in hopes of attracting customers.
He said the menu lowered its average price of a meal from $6.95 to $4.95 but still failed to attract diners.
Merkich also said the restaurant had a difficult time finding and keeping workers.
“We couldn’t hire enough staff,” he said.
The restaurant employed about 25 workers, compared to more than 30 at other Applebee’s, Merkich said.
Most of those workers were transferred in from other Applebee’s, he explained.
“The labor market in Victoria is tight,” he said. “We had a hard time finding help locally.”
Some of the 25 employees were offered jobs at the company’s restaurant in Corpus Christi.
A skeleton staff of workers returned to the restaurant on Monday to empty freezers, deep fat fryers and clean up. Vendors retrieved kegs of beer.
Uncooked food stuffs were distributed to the Salvation Army, Merkich said.
Bob Martin, president of the Victoria Chamber of Commerce, said he is sorry to see Applebee’s go, but said he doesn’t believe there are enough restaurants in Victoria.
‘‘Just drive around during the noon hour and see how many cars are in the parking lots of these restaurants,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s hard to find a place to park.’’
If there are too many restaurants in Victoria now, the competition will only grow worse in the future, Martin predicted.
‘‘Victoria is a growing community and we can expect great growth in the future,’’ he said.
To survive, restaurants are going to have to find a niche, he said.
Although Bennigan’s and Chili’s helped speed Applebee’s demise, Merkich said he wishes them well.
‘‘We couldn’t survive before they came along, so I don’t know how they are going to survive,’’ he said. ‘‘I hope they can. I hate to see any restaurant close.’’