‘We will be closed’: Boston Market restaurants shut down across South Florida as eviction cases stack up

Boston Market’s last turbulent weeks as a going concern appear to have come to an end.

Eviction cases have led to closures across the country and in South Florida over the past month, court records show.

Lale West, a general manager who was laid off when her store in Boca Raton was closed in August, described frenetic mornings spent hustling to retail stores to purchase enough food and supplies to stay open after the chain’s main supplier, US Foods, severed its distribution agreement with Boston Market and then filed suit in Illinois in July, claiming it was owed $11.6 million.

“It was up to the GMs to get up early in the morning to find fish, meat loaf, cornbread,” she said in an interview. “I was making cream spinach from scratch in the microwave. I’d make at least 15 batches to get through the night, and even though I recently had a baby, come back the next day to make more.”

Now that the stores are all closed, workers are trying to figure out how to get the company to pay them for their last two months of work, West said.

Efforts to reach Boston Market Corporation by email or phone were unsuccessful. West said the company’s president, Jignesh “Jay” Pandya, is no longer taking phone calls from employees. The company has not yet filed for bankruptcy protection from creditors.

The last remaining Boston Market stores in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties closed in November as landlords secured writs of possession in eviction lawsuits claiming that the company stopped paying rents months ago.

A tattered eviction notice, dated Nov. 9, was taped to the front door of the store on West Commercial Boulevard in Tamarac this week.

A simple taped sign reading, “We Will Be Closed Today,” was affixed to the door, in front of two forlorn looking pumpkins, at the store on West Atlantic Boulevard in Margate. It’s unclear what final straw led to that store’s closure. No eviction case could be found regarding the property.

Inspection reports by the state Department of Health state that the location at 50 S. Flamingo Road, Pembroke Pines, was open on Nov. 13 before its landlord seized it on Nov. 27.

A tattered evictions lawsuit is taped to the front door of the Boston Market on West Commercial Boulevard in Tamarac.
This is the eviction notice taped to the door of the Boston Market on West Commercial Boulevard in Tamarac. It’s one of several Boston Market stores in South Florida that closed in recent months as landlords filed eviction suits over unpaid rent. (Ron Hurtibise/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Other Broward County locations seized by landlords in eviction lawsuits in November include 3249 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, and 330 S. University Drive, Plantation. An eviction case is pending over the property at 5815 N. University Drive in Tamarac.

In late 2022, landlords retook stores in Fort Lauderdale at 1500 S. Federal Highway and 1787 E. Commercial Blvd.

In Palm Beach County, an eviction suit is pending at 9929 S. Military Trail in Boynton Beach.

A sign on the door of the closed restaurant at 9959 Glades Road in West Boca, where West worked, placed all equipment, furniture and fixtures under a seizure order for unpaid tangible personal property taxes. According to the Palm Beach County tax collector’s website, the company owes $2,438 for 2022 and 2023.

Over the past two years, evictions resulted in the closures of stores in West Palm Beach, Jupiter and Lake Worth.

In Miami-Dade County, evictions have been authorized at seven locations this year, while one eviction complaint is pending.

In late October, Florida Department of Health authorities ordered the Hollywood location as well as one in Cutler Bay in Miami-Dade County to shut down temporarily after documenting flies and cockroaches in food-preparation areas. Rodent droppings were observed at the Cutler Bay location.

Comments from customers on social media this year reflected disappointment in the quality of food and service at the South Florida locations, with some commenters posting photos of generic-looking food served in plain containers rather than familiar branded packaging.

West said she was honest with longtime customers who noticed the difference after US Foods stopped delivering familiar supplies. “They’d tell you off the bat that this wasn’t the original — especially the mac and cheese,” she said. “I’d tell them we were cut off from our supplier, and we had to find stuff where we could.”

She told of sending staff to Walgreens to buy all of the plastic cutlery and paper napkins they could find, of buying seven to 10 turkeys a day at Walmart or Publix, and consulting Google to develop her own recipe for chicken pot pie filling.

A "We're Open" sign sits unused inside a shuttered Boston Market restaurant in Margate.
A discarded sign declares that the Boston Market store on West Atlantic Boulevard in Margate is open. But the store has been closed for several weeks as corporate support for the once-mighty rotisserie chicken chain dried up. (Ron Hurtibise/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Boston Market’s troubles developed over decades since emerging in 1985 as a homestyle alternative to fast food.

Founded in Newtonville, Mass., as The Boston Chicken, the chain offered long-marinated, slow-cooked rotisserie chicken with comfort-food fixings like mashed potatoes, soups, salads and baked desserts.

It expanded to more than 1,000 locations in the 1990s before undergoing a series of ownership changes.

Fast food king McDonald’s bought it in 2000 and sold it in 2007 to private equity firm Sun Capital Partners, which closed nearly 40% of the stores before selling the brand in 2020 to Engage Brands, a subsidiary of the Newtown, Pa.-based Rohan Group of Companies.

By 2021, the chain was down to 326 locations but bullish about a post-pandemic future that included a new line of sandwiches and bowls to appeal to younger consumers, according to a profile that year by Vanguard Legal Magazine.

But earlier this year, suppliers began suing over lack of payment and Google reviews turned brutal. Former enthusiasts complained about lackluster food, small portions, “cash-only” signs and indifferent employees.

An August story in the Nation’s Restaurant News, an industry-focused website, provided possible reasons why.

In May, authorities in Colorado seized the company’s headquarters in Golden, Colo., claiming more than $328,000 in sales and payroll taxes had gone unpaid for more than a year, the website reported, citing a story in the Denver Post.

Employees began filing lawsuits in 2021 claiming unpaid wages, while three other suppliers filed lawsuits beginning in August 2022, claiming they were owed more than $1 million, the website said.

West said that she and other employees began losing their benefits, including their retirement accounts and health insurance, in January.

Meanwhile, stories documenting troubles at the company began appearing in news outlets across the nation:

  • In October, the Staten Island, New York-based SIlive.com said remaining staff members at one restaurant began receiving hand-written paychecks.
  • In November, employees at a Fall River, Mass., location posted a sign stating that while the store was open, they hadn’t been paid for six weeks, according to the website Heraldnews.com.
  • In August, 27 New Jersey locations were closed by that state’s Department of Labor and Workforce, saying the company owed $2.5 million in back wages, damages, fees and penalties. The stores were allowed to reopen the following month after the company paid $630,000, published reports said.

Asked why workers kept showing up to the South Florida stores even as the company fell further and further behind in paying them, West said they wanted to believe the situation would improve.

“Because they were loyal to the company, not to the people who bought the company,” she said. “Despite the broken promises, this is all they had. I had one guy who opened the store on its first day and stayed until the very last.”

While many left after the paychecks stopped, those who stayed shared a sense of camaraderie as they scrambled to keep the doors open, West said.

“Even though corporate wasn’t helping us, we still made it work, made it through that day. We didn’t worry about the next day, or the next week.”

Ron Hurtibise covers business and consumer issues for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. He can be reached by phone at 954-356-4071, on Twitter @ronhurtibise or by email at rhurtibise@sunsentinel.com.