Curry House, the popular Japanese American chain, abruptly shut all of its restaurants on Monday, including seven locations in Southern California.
The closures came as a shock to employees and managers, many of whom said they were given no advance notice. Signs posted at the Gardena and Torrance locations informed workers that their final paychecks could be picked up at a later date.
Calls to the corporate office of Food Management Partners, Curry House’s parent company, were not immediately returned Tuesday. At the time of publication, the website for Curry House USA was down.
In an email sent Tuesday afternoon, a representative of Food Management Partners denied that the Texas-based company had “owned or operated the Curry House restaurant chain,” adding: “We did provide some back-office functions like accounting and IT support, but we were in no way an investor in the brand.”
But a job listing on the company’s own website said “FMP currently manages all store-level and corporate operations for Furr’s Fresh Buffet, Hometown Buffet, Hops, Old Country Buffet, Ryan’s, Curry House, Sushi Zushi, Tahoe Joe’s and Zio’s Italian Kitchen in 36 states.”
The so-called “Curry House Massacre,” or “Brown Wedding,” as a creative Instagram user dubbed it, prompted a wave of lamentation across social media. Many praised Curry House, which opened its first location in Little Tokyo in 1983, as a place where fans of yoshoku — a Western-influenced style of Japanese cooking — could gather over an economical plate of warm Japanese-style curry and rice or spaghetti and tonkatsu.
“The one in Little Tokyo was an OG L.A. streetwear spot,” tweeted Bobby Hundreds, cofounder of local streetwear brand The Hundreds. “While you waited for a table, you stacked up Japanese streetwear mags and Bape catalogs from the bookstore next door.”
The one in Little Tokyo was an OG LA streetwear spot. While you waited for a table, you stacked up Japanese streetwear mags and Bape catalogs from the bookstore next door. https://t.co/2WojhBNiqc— Bobby Hundreds (@bobbyhundreds) February 25, 2020
Several former employees expressed outrage with how the closing was handled.
“No heads up at all. My manager only found out when he arrived on Monday and saw an auction company removing equipment from the store. [The owners of Curry House] didn’t tell anyone at the store level that the stores were closing,” said Tyus Hotta, a server who had worked at the Torrance location since September.
Curry House was formerly owned by House Foods Group Inc., one of Japan’s largest food manufacturers and brands (since 2015, House Foods also has operated the global curry chain CoCo Ichibanya).
Last year House Foods turned over management of Curry House USA to Food Management Partners Inc., a restaurant investment firm with stakes in chains and food manufacturers in 36 states.
Food Management Partners was the defendant in a fraud lawsuit filed last year. According to the San Antonio Express News, a Chicago-based investment group claimed that executives from an FMP affiliate had spent $12 million in business earnings on “exotic cars, boats, homes and foreign travel.” The case is still pending.
According to Hotta, the Torrance server, many employees felt disheartened by changes made under Curry House’s new ownership.
“They laid off about 90% of the kitchen staff when new owners took over,” he said. “Every store had to close for a while because they had to teach the recipes to the new back-of-house staff.”
As for Curry House locations around L.A., including restaurants in Monterey Park, City of Industry and Cypress, it appears doors will remain locked for the foreseeable future, with much of the equipment and furniture already removed from the premises.
“It was a complete shock. When I found out I was out of a job I was heartbroken,” said Theadore Balaschak, another former employee.
Balaschak continued on Twitter: “This was a tragedy, to say the least. Everyone was so passionate about the food and we all worked together as a family. It’s been a very rough day for all of us, but we all are still hanging in there.”