Manzo Lobster & Oyster Bar hasn’t had it easy since opening in September 2020.
Like much of the food industry, the seafood restaurant at 500 E. 19th St. in Uptown has seen a slowdown in traffic as a result of the pandemic and is struggling with staffing shortages.
A month after opening, the business was sued by the former tenant in its space.
And last week, the restaurant owned by Richard Manzo filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy — in large part to stop ongoing litigation.
“Both the litigation and slowdown in business led to the perfect storm,” said Jamie Buechler with Buechler Law Office, who is representing the restaurant in bankruptcy proceedings. “The restaurant needed this bankruptcy to survive these cold winter months. But once the weather turns in the spring and the patio is able to open, the hope is people will be coming out again in droves.”
According to the filing, Manzo Lobster & Oyster Bar — technically Seafood Junkie LLC — owes $258,009 to about 20 creditors and has assets worth $57,500.
The restaurant said it had gross revenue of $208,354 in 2020. As of the Oct. 14 filing date, the company’s 2021 revenue was $1.1 million.
Companies use Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to reorganize and keep the business alive, paying creditors over time.
The lawsuit against the restaurant was filed in October 2020 by Marg’s Taco Bistro, which alleged the restaurant failed to pay $30,000 for the transfer of a liquor license after the two entered into an asset purchase agreement in 2019.
Four days after the bankruptcy was filed, the case was closed.
Manzo Lobster & Oyster Bar filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy under the new subchapter V, which was introduced last March and is an abbreviated version of the usual process that’s designed for small businesses. Companies that filed under subchapter V can force creditors to accept court-approved repayment plans of three to five years.
“There is one secure creditor, Webbank, which from what I understand is a factoring company and the debtor was factoring its credit cards,” Buechler said. “That agreement has now stopped, but they’re still owed money and have a lien on some of the debtor’s accounts in cash. We filed a motion to be able to use that cash in order to pay the ordinary expense of the business.
“The bankruptcy court approved our cash collateral order, and, notably, the debtor was able to get the consent of the secure creditor for that use of cash collateral,” Buechler said. “That will allow us to continue to operate and use the receivables while we’re in bankruptcy to pay debts, pay employees, pay rent and ultimately form the basis of a plan of reorganization.”
Buechler said the restaurant “spent hundreds of thousands of dollars” fixing up its unit before opening. Its rotating menu features fresh seafood delivered on planes daily, including oysters from both coasts, wild Tasmanian ocean trout and ahi tuna poke. The kitchen also has a 2,500-gallon, marine biologist-designed lobster tank that keeps shellfish fresh for more than two weeks.
Prior to opening Manzo Lobster & Oyster Bar, Manzo tested his concept out with the Lobster Bliss food truck. Before that, he worked for the Den Corner restaurant group, which owns Sushi Den, Izakaya Den and Ototo in Platt Park.
“Now, it’s really a function of how much cash can the business generate over time to use a portion of that to pay creditors,” Buechler said. “And we’re hoping that now that the economy is turning around, people will start coming out to eat more and they can build this business back up.”
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