CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Eight Long John Silver’s restaurants in Iowa will close their doors. The store in Dubuque closed earlier this week and the location at 3801 First Ave SE in Cedar Rapids will close Friday.
Nellis Management’s Richard Levitt says the move comes as the company tries to make up for loses after the chain’s “Big Catch” meal was dubbed the “Worst restaurant meal in America” by the Centers for Science in the Public Interest in July of 2013. CSPI claimed the meal of fried fish, hushpuppies and onion rings contained 33 grams of trans fat, 19 grams of saturated fat and 3,700 mg of sodium. The meal tops out at 1,320 calories.
“Bad publicity can kill a business overnight,” Levitt says. “Rebuilding a reputation can take time.” He says some of Nellis’ locations saw sales losses of 20-50 percent in the last few weeks. But with the closings, the total losses are expected to be in the millions of dollars as Nellis Management owns the land, building and equipment on two-thirds of its stores.
Five months after the CSPI ranking came out, Long John Silver’s began using trans fat-free oil at its stores. It also took the “Big Catch” off its menu. But Levitt says the switch to oil without trans-fats wasn’t popular with guests and then the company had to change the oil again. He says the latest change in the last couple of weeks has restored the food “back to the glory days, when it was a really great brand.”
Nellis Management operates 31 Long John Silver’s locations across the country. It is now closing 16 of those locations. Half of those restaurants are in Iowa as stores in Dubuque, Fort Dodge, Des Moines, Marshalltown, Cedar Rapids and Ankeny are either closed or in the process of closing.