Johnny Carino's

Johnny Carino's at 3042 King Ave. W. closed in December.

ERIK OLSON, Gazette staff

Johnny Carino’s, an Italian-style chain restaurant that has struggled nationwide, closed Monday on Billings West End after 12 years of operation.

A sign posted on the door noted the Bozeman and Missoula locations for the eatery would remain open. The three restaurants are owned by Paul and Karen Ward of Bozeman.

A message left on Karen Ward’s cellphone was not returned Monday.

The 6,600-square-foot building and land are owned by Denny Menholt Chevrolet next door. Menholt said Monday the dealership has “future plans” for the property but declined to discuss them further. He added that the Wards are fulfilling all of their lease obligations.

The building and land were appraised at $1.8 million this year, according to state property records.

The loss of Johnny Carino’s creates a second significant restaurant gap on King Avenue West. The former Cactus Creek building, about two blocks away, has been vacant for almost a year.

The Billings Johnny Carino’s closure comes in the wake of a July bankruptcy filing by Johnny Carino’s parent company, Fired Up Inc., based in Austin, Texas. The company had recently emerged from a previous bankruptcy in 2014.

According to Nation’s Restaurant News, a trade publication, the company owns 36 stores and franchises an additional 48 nationwide. This is less than half from peak times in 2006, according to the publication.

In a July federal bankruptcy filing, Fired Up CEO Creed Ford blamed the company’s troubles on a weak casual dining market, low oil prices and higher-than-expected costs associated with the Affordable Care Act, according to Nation’s Restaurant News.

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