Chi-Chi's restaurant closes doors after 27 years

Patrons say close was no surprise after poor food quality



After 27 years of serving Bloomington residents, Chi-Chi's, the Mexican restaurant chain, closed its doors. But to some patrons, the closing caused no grief.\nSayako Kimura, a graduate student in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, said her last visit to Chi-Chi's destroyed her childhood memories of the restaurant. \n"When I was younger, the place was very popular. Lots of people had to wait in a long line. I remembered I had good memories (of) it," said Kimura, who lived in Lexington, Ky., 12 years ago. \nKimura said she and her family were regular customers at Chi-Chi's, dining at the restaurant at least once a month. \n"Back then there weren't many Mexican restaurants in Lexington, unlike Los Angeles or other big cities. Chi-Chi's was one of the few Mexican places. It's like, if you want to have Mexican food, you go there," Kimura said.\nKimura spent a decade in Japan before returning to the United States for her graduate studies at IU last fall. She was excited to see the Bloomington Chi-Chi's just off of Third Street, which had been there since 1984. \n"I was really looking forward to (going) there," Kimura said. "But when I was there, it wasn't as good. The atmosphere was less lively than I remembered. The service was so-so. The food was kind of disappointing. The side dishes, like the beans, were like out of can and microwaved. At least to me, I don't think they put the effort to make the food look good. Also, I think it's expensive for the quality. As much as I want to eat Mexican food, I don't think I want to go back there again."\nBut even if she wanted to, Kimura couldn't go back to Chi-Chi's because the restaurant ceased its operations Sept. 20 after Outback Steakhouse settled a $42.5 million deal for the rights to 76 restaurants in the Chi-Chi's chain. The Bloomington store's personnel included 53 employees and four managers when it closed. \nJoseph Kadow, senior vice president for Outback Steakhouse, told USA Today the deal did not include Chi-Chi's brand, its restaurant operation or any recipes.\nPrior to Outback's successful bid, Chi-Chi's was already declining. Last fall, a Chi-Chi's restaurant in Beaver County, Pa., faced a hepatitis A outbreak that killed four and made 660 people ill. About 325 victims filed claims seeking damages from the company, 150 of which have been settled with $7 million paid out, according to USA Today. A few weeks before the outbreak, Chi-Chi's filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protections.\nStephanie Amberg, Outback's director of public relations, said it is not clear yet what they will do with each of 76 properties nationwide. \n"Because there are many restaurant locations, we don't have plans for each location yet," Amberg said. \nOutback will still need some weeks before making its final decisions, Amberg said. Until then, Bloomington's Chi-Chi's restaurant will remain closed. \nOne of the possibilities is to convert the former Chi-Chi's into one of Outback's restaurant brands, including it's signature Outback Steakhouse, Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bars, Bonefish Grill, Carrabba's Italian Grill, Roy's Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine, and Cheeseburger in Paradise. Another option is to sell the property.\nKelly Drake, program coordinator at the Hoosier Hills Food Bank, said she is not surprised to hear that Chi-Chi's has closed down. \n"We received a lot of notices from the Health Department, which tells us that certain food from certain places is contaminated so that we do not take such donations. The warnings about Chi-Chi's food were particularly high," Drake said.\nNonetheless, Drake said her personal experience with the Chi-Chi's restaurant was satisfying.\nDrake said she was not moved by Chi-Chi's closure since she felt there are several better Mexican dining places in Bloomington. Many IU students seconded her opinions, including sophomore Stephen Sundberg.\n"I don't care if it's closed or not. I don't normally eat there anyway," Sendburg said.\n-- Contact staff writer Sopaporn Saeung at ssaeung@indiana.edu

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