Smokey Bones closes N.H. eateries

Signature pulled pork sandwiches and baby back ribs were delivered to diners at Smokey Bones Barbeque and Grill restaurants in Concord and Newington for the last time last Friday night, when both closed their doors for good.

The closings were part of a repositioning effort by Darden Restaurants Inc., owner of the chain.

The two New Hampshire eateries are among 56 Smokey Bones restaurants closed in the eastern United States – a move blamed on declining patronage, said company spokesman Joe Chabus.

“These were among the restaurants that have not performed well and are part of a declining trend,” Chabus said. “These closures in no way adversely reflect on the team that worked there. They put in a lot of effort to build the business. Our original projections as to the demand for barbeque in those areas were too optimistic.”

Company officials are working toward placing the 138 displaced employees in new positions at nearby Darden-owned Olive Garden restaurants.

While the Smokey Bones in Concord and Newington were among those that did not attract the barbeque fans needed to remain open, 73 others continue to do well, Chabus said. Despite the success of these restaurants, however, the Smokey Bones concept is no longer consistent with Darden’s vision of other national-scale eatery chains it owns, such as Olive Garden and Red Lobster.

Chabus said Darden’s decision to abandon the Smokey Bones concept is part of an overall effort by the company to better position itself for future growth.

Darden officials expect to take a pre-tax charge of approximately $260 million in connection with the Smokey Bones action and anticipate an 11 percent increase in diluted net earnings per share from continuing operations to between $2.48 and $2.52 for fiscal 2007.

In addition to the 73 remaining Smokey Bones restaurants, Darden owns and operates approximately 1,400 other restaurants, including Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Bahama Breeze and Seasons 52, It employs some 160,000 people. – TRACIE STONE

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