Baja Sol Tortilla Grill appears to be the latest casualty in a swath of fast casual restaurant closings.
None of the chain’s seven Twin Cities locations’ phones were answered on Thursday, and doors were locked.
However, the restaurant group has not yet publicly announced the closings. Voice-mail messages said nothing about closures, and the company’s website still lists the seven locations as open.
With no official notices on the doors, customers in Minneapolis and St. Paul took to Twitter, asking questions such as “Why are you still closed in downtown St. Paul @bajasol? I want quesadillas.”
The Inver Grove Heights-based restaurant company was purchased in 2006 by an investment group including the late Bill Cooper, who retired as TCF Bank CEO; Tony Sutton, former state Republican Party chairman; and Sutton’s former wife, Bridget.
The company, like many restaurants, began a downhill spiral brought on by the recession. The Suttons filed for bankruptcy protection in 2010, owing more than $2.1 million.
Chief Executive Tim Jurek, who took over in 2013, did not return several phone calls. Less than a year ago, he told the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal about opening new locations in Edina and downtown St. Paul. Both are now closed, along with those in Eden Prairie, Roseville, St. Louis Park and two in Minneapolis. At its peak, the Twin Cities had nearly 20 locations.
The location in City Center in Minneapolis closed Sept. 2 after being served an eviction notice, said Frank Halm, an attorney for City Center Holding Inc. Other locations closed about that same time, he said.
The City Center Baja Sol owed more than $26,000 in rent for July and August, according to an eviction notice dated Aug. 17.
More than 1,000 fast casual restaurant locations have closed since 2016, including Applebee’s, Joe’s Crab Shack, Old Country Buffet, Noodles & Co., Subway, Outback and Ruby Tuesday.
Consumers are starting to prefer independent restaurants over chains, despite numerous closures of indie restaurants. Pentallect, a food industry consulting group in Chicago, predicts that the number of locally owned indies will grow by 5 percent over the next three years.
Chain restaurants are expected to grow by 3 percent by 2020, down from the 3.6 percent growth that the top 500 U.S. restaurant chains experienced last year.
Baja Sol offered burritos, tacos, fajitas, quesadillas, enchiladas and salads.
Staff writer Jeff Meitrodt contributed to this report.