Friendly's CEO says employees were warned of closings

Apr 12, 2019

The abrupt closings of 14 Friendly's restaurants across Upstate New York and another nine in New England  this week is continuing to stir not-so-friendly feelings for the corporate chain. The chain says those feelings are unwarranted.

In Western New York, only the Friendly's in Olean remains. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer has been the most vocal about the closings, saying they may have violated labor laws like the WARN Act.

“That is inhumane, it is cruel and it shows that some of these corporations just don’t care about their workers,” Schumer said.

He has called for fines and penalties if Friendly’s violated the law and if they didn’t, he said the laws should be tightened.

Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow said the Friendly’s in his city - like many locations - has been around for decades.

"You walk into a restaurant and you know the people who are waiting on you," Barlow said. "They're your neighbors, you went to school with them, some may even be family members. To know that they went into work and all of a sudden were told they were out of a job, hits home to a lot of people in the city."

Barlow is offering former Friendly’s employees the first chance at seasonal, temporary jobs working for the Department of Public Works, cleaning the marina and parks. He knows of at least one person who has taken up that offer.

However, a spokesperson for Friendly's now says employees were informed personally and the company is working to support them with opportunities at other locations or severance payments. Below is a letter sent to Friendly's franchisees by CEO George Michel:

Dear Franchisees:

As we move into the second quarter of 2019, I want to again thank you for the valuable input and insights you’ve shared over the last few months as we accelerate efforts to reinvigorate the Friendly’s brand and chart a successful course forward in the face of shifting demographics and consumer preferences, increased competition, and rising costs. Amidst these industry-wide dynamics, our charge is to ensure our beloved brand not only remains relevant with existing audiences but continues to resonate with new generations of patrons and that our operations are structured to support long-term sustainability.

While there’s much work ahead, we are encouraged by the momentum we’re generating. The energy and enthusiasm for the plans we unveiled at our February meeting was both gratifying and inspiring, as we seek to re-energize our marketing efforts with the addition of a new agency roster, refresh our menu, focus on delivery and catering options, and improve the overall restaurant experience for our customers.

As we mentioned earlier this year, we initiated a strategic assessment of our corporate-owned restaurant footprint, with an eye toward ongoing viability and maximizing resource investment.  In today’s environment, it is incumbent upon all restaurant operators to engage in such a process, but particularly so for Friendly’s, which, as an established brand, has locations in geographic areas that have changed dramatically in some cases since those restaurants first opened. After a months-long evaluation and careful consideration, we have decided to close 23 corporate-owned restaurants, effective immediately. While this was a tough decision, we are confident it will best position the brand for a bright future. Especially difficult is the impact these closures will have on the locations’ wonderful employees, who we are working to support with opportunities in other locations or severance payments and other assistance. 

The closed locations include 14 restaurants in upstate New York, three in Massachusetts, three in Connecticut, two in New Hampshire and one in Maine. A full list is included at the end of this letter. Following these actions, Friendly’s will have 77 corporate-owned restaurants and 97 franchisee-owned restaurants.

Moving forward, we are committed to continuing to work closely with you to enhance the overall experience for our Friendly’s customers. Thank you again for your support and valuable input.

As always, please contact me if you have any questions.