Big Boy Franchise Files For Chapter 11 <b></b>

Detroit-The franchisor of the Big Boy restaurant chainhas filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Elias Bros. Corp.also said it will sell the company to investor Robert G. LiggettJr. The Warren, Michigan-based chain includes 455 Big Boyeateries.

The purchase price was not disclosed but will be made publicnext week, said Anthony Michaels, Elias' chief executive. Thesale is subject to approval by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Michaelssaid the agreement should end speculation about the future of thechain, which has had difficulties with recent expansions as well ascash-flow problems.

"The stores are open, the Big Boy icon goes on,"Michaels said. "That line in Austin Powers-'He'salways been around'-well, that still holds true." The BigBoy statue, which is prominently displayed outside Big Boyrestaurants, was featured in both Austin Powers movies as thevehicle in which Austin Powers' nemesis, Dr. Evil, escaped intoouter space.

The company was founded by Fred, Louis and John Elias, who ransmall restaurants in the Detroit area after World War II. Theylater offered to franchise the family-style restaurant to Bob Wian,who founded Bob's Big Boy in California.

Big Boy purchased 34 Shoney's restaurants in October 1998 toexpand its national presence. But the conversion took longer thanexpected, and Elias Bros. fell behind with creditors and had torenegotiate vendor contracts last fall. The company last monthclosed 43 Big Boy restaurants in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohioand Michigan. But Michaels said business remained good at theremaining restaurants.

Elias Bros. had several offers on the table and reached apurchase agreement with one investment group in August. But thatdeal fell through and Liggett stepped in, Michaels said. "Mr.Liggett is very committed to this sales process," Michaelssaid. "We want everyone to understand that Big Boy restaurantsworldwide will be fully operational during thereorganization." -Associated Press

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