Italian restaurant chain Romano's Macaroni Grill has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection with a plan to restructure around 93 locations by handing ownership of the chain to a lender group.

Macaroni Grill filed for protection Wednesday, Oct. 18, with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware in Wilmington, blaming a general downturn in the casual dining segment. Prior to the filing, the company announced the shuttering of 37 under-performing restaurants, but is facing 16 lawsuits from landlords related to those closures.

The company entered bankruptcy with some agreements already in place and said it's looking to exit bankruptcy by early 2018. Those agreements include a $5 million bankruptcy loan from Raven Capital Management LLC, financing that will convert to an exit loan upon Macaroni Grill's emergence from bankruptcy. When that happens, Raven has agreed to provide an additionally $8.5 million to the company.

Further, the company has signed a restructuring support agreement with its two secured lenders, together owed $23 million. With that agreement, Macaroni Grill will attempt to implement its proposed restructuring, which lays out a payment plan for the $18 million it owes to Bank of Colorado and gives Riesen Funding LLC ownership interests in exchange for its $5 million.

Unsecured creditors, who haven't agreed to the terms of the plan yet, are slated to share a $500,000 pool of cash if they vote to support the plan.

The specifics of the Bank of Colorado payments include $3.5 million in cash when Macaroni Grill exits bankruptcy, followed by two years of $41,666 monthly payments and then payment in full of the balance.

Macaroni Grill isn't the first restaurant chain to enter bankruptcy this year. Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp., Cosi Inc. Logan's Roadhouse and Ignite Restaurant Group, which owns Joe's Crab Shack and Brick House Tavern and Tap, all have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Additionally, ratings firm S&P Global Ratings recently said that retail, restaurant and consumer companies are currently topping its list of distressed companies. 

Ignite Restaurant Group was purchased by Landry's Inc., a restaurant and casino owner. However, Ignite previously owned Macaroni Grill as well. In 2015, the company sold Macaroni Grill to Redrock Partners LLC for $8 million.

In May 2017, Riesen took on a 50% interest in Macaroni Grill. It was at that time that the company hired Mackinac Partners to help turn the chain around. The company posted Ebitda of negative 12 million for the 12-months prior to August 2017, according to court documents.

Based in Denver, Macaroni Grill was founded in 1988 and operates in 25 states, employing 4,600 people. It claimed assets of between $10 million and $50 million and liabilities between $50 million to $100 million

Jeffrey C. Krause, Michael S. Neumeister, Emily B. Speak and Brittany N. Schmeltz of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP in Los Angeles and Michael R. Nestor, Edmon L. Morton, Ryan M. Bartley, Elizabeth S. Justison of Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor LLP in Wilmington are representing the company, which filed for bankruptcy formally as Mac Acquisition LLC. Nishant Machado of Mackinac Partners is serving as president, chief executive officer and chief restructuring officer.

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