Published On: Thu, Oct 1st, 2015

Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill hit with lawsuits, liens nationwide

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Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill has generated a country song’s worth of grief in cities nationwide — along with nearly $30 million in lawsuits, liens, judgments and accusations of unscrupulous business practices against a Phoenix-based restaurant chain.

Boomtown Entertainment is accused in lawsuits of taking millions of dollars from mall owners and developers to build new locations and then walking away with the money, often leaving projects unfinished.Boomtown closed most of its restaurants this year amid allegations that it stiffed landlords, contractors and suppliers, as well as racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in liens for failing to pay sales taxes.

An Arizona Republic investigation found Boomtown recently accelerated its restaurant closures, shutting down 10 since May with little or no warning to employees and customers. All told, Boomtown has closed 17 of its 20 Toby Keith restaurants in the past 18 months, including three in metro Phoenix and one in Tucson.

Boomtown officials followed many closures of Toby Keith restaurants with promises to open new ones in different cities. Since 2012, the company has announced plans to build 19 Toby Keith restaurants that it left unfinished or never started.

The Republic also found:Boomtown, its affiliates and executives have been sued in 24 cities and are facing at least $28.6 million in lawsuits, judgments and liens. No Toby Keith restaurant has been open longer than seven years, and some closed within months of opening.

The median time restaurants have stayed in business is two years. That includes the three still operating, in Rosemont, Ill., Foxborough, Mass., and Auburn Hills, Mich.Boomtown’s first Toby Keith restaurant, named after the country singer’s 2003 chart topper “I Love This Bar,” opened in Mesa six years ago. The concept was part dance hall, part nightclub and part Southern-dining experience. You want fried pickles with your American Soldier Burger? You got it. Beer was served in Mason jars and entertainment was provided by the Whisky Girls.

Toby Keith’s was built big; the sprawling dining space included a stage for concerts. And if live music wasn’t available, customers always could join in a line dance. The restaurant’s centerpiece was an 85-foot-long guitar-shaped bar in star-spangled colors.Boomtown’s newest Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill location in the High Street shopping area in Phoenix shut down without notice about four months after its April 2015 opening.

Keith’s name was on the building, but he didn’t have an ownership stake in the restaurant. He collected revenue on the naming rights and would make an occasional appearance. Boomtown wasn’t the only company operating Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill, but it quickly became the biggest.

Boomtown had caught country lightning in a bottle. It opened three more Toby Keith restaurants in 2010. By 2012 it had 10. Then the bottle cracked.

In 2012, a Dallas mall owner sued the company for not paying rent. A judge ordered Boomtown to pay $1.4 million in 2013, and company officials closed the restaurant a few months later.

That first closure in 2014 was followed by more lawsuits. A pattern quickly emerged: construction delays, tenant disputes, missed rental payments, delinquent taxes and evictions, which led to more closures and unfinished projects. But even as Boomtown closed restaurants, it continued to open new ones through April 2015.

Boomtown officials said in interviews that each restaurant was unique and that legal issues at one location were unrelated to the others.They described the shutdowns as part of an aggressive new business plan and said in August that the closure of four restaurants soon would be offset by the openings of new ones in Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and elsewhere.

But The Republic found the company already had halted construction and walked away from its lease in Cleveland, delayed construction in Pittsburgh and canceled plans to build in Greenville, S.C.Boomtown’s website this week continued to display restaurant locations in 19 cities, but 16 of those are closed.

Source: Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill closings, lawsuits and liens raise questions across the country

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