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Ground Round closes abruptly

February 17, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Ground Round Grill & Bar restaurants along the East Coast abruptly closed their doors Friday, shuffling out customers mid-meal in Frederick, Md., and laying off about 50 employees in Hagerstown.

"They let everybody know that they appreciated our services. They told us to close the doors, put the food away and go home," said Stuart Masure, general manager at Ground Round in Braintree, Mass., where Ground Round has its headquarters.

He said the company headquarters was closed.

Messages were left Monday at American Hospitality Concepts based in Braintree, which owns the Ground Round franchise, but calls were not returned.

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According to the company Web site, there are 133 restaurants in 24 states.

Masure said between 60 and 70 restaurants along the East Coast closed their doors at 4:30 p.m. Friday after general managers took part in a conference call from corporate headquarters.

He said he can only speculate as to why the stores are closing.

"It's a very sad day for all of us," Masure said. "Many of us have been here for 10 years."

Mary Hoffman, general manager of the Hagerstown Ground Round at Valley Plaza Shopping Center off Wesel Boulevard, said 50 people lost their jobs Friday. At least one of the employees had been there since the restaurant opened in 1994, she said.

Hoffman said someone is looking into buying the Frederick and Hagerstown locations, but she said she's not sure when that purchase might be made and what it would mean for her employees.

"I hate to think of (Hagerstown Ground Round employees) out there somewhere else," she said. "Our staff, all of us here, are like family."

Hoffman said she wished she had the details of why the store closed one day before Valentine's Day weekend.

Although the restaurant doesn't take reservations, she said it had planned for a big crowd Saturday.

Susan Kezios, American Franchisee Association president, said that in the past when restaurants closed as the Ground Round restaurants did it was because the owners wanted to revamp their image and bulldoze their old establishments.

Hoffman said she's not sure what she'll do next.

"I'm just in shock. This store was plussing in sales every year. Our profits were better than they needed to be. ... I'm just shocked," she said.

Hoffman praised restaurants in the area, which she said offered to assist the laid-off Ground Round employees "in any way that they could."

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