The letter to customers was simple and sweet. Posted on the door of the Ponderosa Steakhouse on West Seventh Street in Auburn was a notice that the restaurant would be closing.
“After 30 years of serving the Auburn Community we are sad to report that the owners of the property have decided to sell the building and we are vacating,” it reads.
The restaurant, which closed Dec. 2, was the last of its kind in the area. The nearest Ponderosa Steakhouse restaurants are in Coldwater, Michigan, and Goshen. According to the chain's website, there are 11 locations in Indiana and 70 worldwide. The numbers also include Bonanza steakhouses.
In its heyday, Ponderosa was known for offering “the spirit of the Old West ... and honest-to-goodness value.” Customers would line up at the cashier to order a steak cooked-to-order and then hit the buffet line where options included fried chicken wings, spaghetti and soft-serve ice cream.
But the business – and concept – suffered during the economic downturn in 2008, forcing parent company Metromedia Steakhouses Co. to file for bankruptcy. A Ponderosa on Coldwater Road near Glenbrook Square closed that year. Between 2001 and 2011, nearly two-thirds of its stores closed, according to a December 2012 report in USA Today.
There were 175 stores left when USA Today published the story, and 2011 sales were $241 million – a drop of nearly 62 percent.
In 2017, when the business was sold for $10.5 million to FAT Brands, the number of locations had declined to about 110 units collectively, including franchises.
At the time, FAT Brands President and CEO Andy Wiederhorn said, “The completion of this acquisition will allow our management team to seamlessly extend Ponderosa and Bonanza into new segments and expand their footprints in existing markets through the company's extensive franchisee network.”
However, stories about Ponderosa are now more often about closing than expanding.
Cajun flair comes downtown
John Maxwell is back – or at least very close to being back. The New Orleans native and face behind the popular Ragin' Cajun food truck is in the final preparation stage of his newest venture, NOLA on 13 Bistro & Event Center.
The restaurant on the 13th floor of the Indiana Michigan Power Center downtown will offer breakfast and lunch weekdays, serving the southern fare fans came to love as well as some new favorites.
Breakfast menu items include huevos rancheros with seasoned black beans on a grilled tortilla with eggs, tomato salsa and cilantro-lime sauce; pain perdu (French toast); and beignets.
Lunch items include salads, entrées, such aspan-seared mahi-mahi with black beans Cubano and Maxwell's famous po boys.
There are also two small private rooms where groups can host breakfast meetings and working lunches.
NOLA 13 is in the soft-opening phase with plans for a grand opening in the works. Hours will be 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Sapporo Steakhouse, 650 Lima Road, will be open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Christmas Eve and noon to 9 p.m. Christmas Day. The restaurant is accepting reservations; call 739-6064.
• Mad Anthony Brewing Co. is expanding its Pints for Half-Pints initiative to include all brewery locations, as well as Shigs-in-Pit on Maplecrest Road. The program benefits Mad Anthony's Children's Hope House. A portion of sales from each pint of Olde Fort Blonde Lager goes to Hope House.
• Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen rolled out new menu items for the winter season – Crispy Chicken Tender Noodle Soup, Better Than Mom's Meatloaf, Texas-Sized Nachos and a 14-ounce rib-eye steak.
The Dish features restaurant news and food events and appears Wednesdays. Fax news items to 461-8893, email email@example.com or call 461-8304.