By Lisa van der Pool, Boston Business Journal

BOSTON (CBS) – Melissa Jasper spends four days every week cooking up waffles, onion rings and quesadillas at the Portsmouth, N.H., and Cambridge locations of her diner, The Friendly Toast.

While she’s been a dedicated restaurateur for the past 17 years, Jasper recently put the two locations up for sale, with an asking price of $1.8 million.

Her decision came after debt stemming from a renovation several years ago became too much of a burden.

“We can still cash out and have a fair amount of money,” said Jasper, who owns the restaurants with her husband. “We’re up for something new.”

As the dreary economy wears on, a growing number of restaurateurs are following Jasper’s lead and looking to cash out of their restaurants.

Some have been restaurateurs for decades and some are new to the business, and just unable to gain a foothold in a weak market, Boston-area restaurant brokers said.

Indeed, market fluctuations and a prolonged period of high unemployment and little job growth have hit restaurant sales nationally.

Restaurant operators expected August sales to be worse than July’s, and said that the country’s debt issues and stock market volatility had “directly hurt sales,” according to a new survey from the NRN-Miller Pulse survey, a joint effort by Nation’s Restaurant News and Larry Miller, a restaurant securities analyst with RBC Capital Markets in Atlanta.

The NRN-Miller Pulse survey found that two out of four restaurant sectors – casual and fine-dining – had a negative six-month outlook, with expectations of slower sales to come.

Locally, restaurants for sale range from well-known institutions to breakfast nooks.

Harvard Square fixture Casablanca recently went up for sale.

Baker’s Best in Newton Highlands, a popular breakfast spot and bakery since 1984, is for sale with an asking price of $575,000.

The Bombay Club in the South End (whose owner Vinod Kapoor filed for bankruptcy in March) is also for sale, with an asking price of $1.75 million.

Restaurants typically take between 45 days to six months to sell.

In business since 1965, Casablanca, with its movie title name, enjoys traffic from Harvard Square and the next-door Brattle Theatre.

“I’ve been here for 40 years, and it’s catching up with me,” said owner Sari Abuljubein, 66.

“And of course there’s the economy. I just think the place would benefit from someone other than me in charge of it. And I would avoid the worries and stresses that come with this business.”

Casablanca seats about 150, has an average check price of $40 and 25 employees.

Abuljubein, a native of Palestine, declined to disclose the sale price or revenue.

“It’s very much a buyer’s market,” said Charlie Perkins, president of the restaurant consulting firm The Boston Restaurant Group, who says restaurant valuations are off by 30 percent in this economy.

Perkins said that while many restaurants are selling because of the weak economy, weak sales can also be blamed on a poor location choice or landlord conflicts.

“We’re selling five restaurants that haven’t been open for two years… it’s been hard for a new restaurant to get traction,” said Perkins.

Restaurants typically sell for about 30 percent of sales.

Perkins currently has 22 restaurants for sale, including a North End spot and a restaurant in Newton.

Perkins is also handling the Casablanca sale.

“Buyers are getting strong deals … and the sellers, a lot of them are tired, after hammering away for the last three or four years,” said Daniel Newcomb, principal at The Atlantic Restaurant Group Inc. in Marshfield, a real estate firm that focuses on restaurants.

This year, Newcomb has sold 22 restaurants to date, and 10 have sales in process – a 20 percent increase over last year.

He currently has 26 restaurants on the market.

Lisa van der Pool of the Boston Business Journal reports

For Michael Baker, who opened Baker’s Best in 1984, his decision to sell the breakfast spot in Newton was not based on the economy.

Over the years, Baker’s Best’s catering business has grown to represent 85 percent of his company.

He’s selling the restaurant (not the name) to focus exclusively on his catering business, which is based in Needham. Total revenue for the company is $11 million; the store’s revenue is about $2 million.

“It’s not that the business wasn’t doing well,” said Baker. “We are still Baker’s Best… all the food you could pick up at the store, we deliver.”

  1. anon says:

    Nooooooooooooooo! I love the Friendly Toast!!

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