COSTA MESA ( — The Costa Mesa-based parent company of the Elephant Bar casual dining chain has filed for bankruptcy and is closing 16 restaurants nationwide, officials announced this week.

S.B. Restaurant Co. announced the Chapter 11 filing Monday along with a motion for approval of $3.3 million of “debtor-in-possession” financing, which will allow the company to continue to operate in the ordinary course of business during the bankruptcy proceeding, according to a statement.

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Elephant Bar executives — who say they eventually intend to sell the chain — blamed the “challenging economic environment and increasing competitiveness of the industry” for the company’s financial woes.

As part of the reorganization, the company is shutting down Elephant Bar locations in Burbank, Northridge, Irvine, Simi Valley and Santa Clarita, along with restaurants in Kansas, Ohio and Florida.

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“Supermarket guru” Phil Lempert told KNX Business Hour’s Ron Kilgore a combination of the restaurant’s menu offerings and the general economic climate played a role in the Elephant Bar’s downfall – and could spell trouble for the rest of the industry.

“There were too many choices at Elephant Bar, and at the same time, because of the economy, more people are cooking at home; they’re going out less,” Lempert said. “So you put all that together and the restaurant industry does have some dismal times ahead.”

David Nancarrow, who founded the Carrows family-dining chain, opened the first Elephant Bar location in Lubbock, Texas, in 1980. Prior to the announced closures, the company employed more than 4,000 employees nationwide.

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President and CEO Robert Holden said Elephant Bar will continue to honor all gift cards and points earned through the customer loyalty program at its 29 remaining locations.