The writing wasn’t on the wall Friday at Applebee’s in Davis, but it was on the front door.
Octogenarians, blue-collar workers and pairs of people in their 20s nibbled on lunches under framed photos of UC Davis student-athletes and local bicycle inventor Peter Wagner as NASCAR played on TV.
The restaurant where a Sacramento News & Review reporter once dined with white supremacists looked to be operating as normal on its last day open. The closure leaves IHOP — which bought Applebee’s for $1.9 billion in 2007 — as the only national table-service chain left in Davis. Redding-based Black Bear Diner is arguably the next-closest thing, with restaurants in eight states outside of California. Surviving chains include Wingstop, Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Panda Express, all of which offer counter service.
Iason Pitsillides, 18, a recent Davis High graduate, said he frequently went to Applebee’s when he was a youngster. Now that he’s a bit older, Pitsillides and his friends don’t often make the bike ride to 1753 Research Park Dr. Even after his Davis Applebee’s meal Friday, he didn’t know the restaurant was closing.
“There’s just this general stigma against these big corporations ... that you can probably find somewhere else that’s better and fresher,” Pitsillides said. “It’s Davis being Davis.”
Applebee’s employees were told of the closure Aug. 24, manager Meghan Riley said, two days before the Davis Enterprise broke the news. “The business economics of the restaurant were no longer favorable,” a sign on the front door said. Employees have been offered jobs at Applebee’s in Natomas, Vacaville and Woodland, Riley said.
A 2017 Business Insider article titled “Millennials are killing chains like Buffalo Wild Wings and Applebee’s” detailed how Americans in their 20s and 30s often opt for home-cooked meals, ordering delivery from restaurants or eating at fast-casual chains such as Chipotle and Panera — both of which have locations in downtown Davis — over sit-down meals at Ruby Tuesday’s or Red Robin.
Fast-casual restaurants are the only industry sector reporting more in-person customers than five years ago, according to The NPD Group, a market analysis firm. Applebee’s has made an effort to be more convenient, partnering with DoorDash and having employees run takeout orders out to customers’ cars, but it wasn’t enough to save the franchise in Davis.
Parent company Dine Equity announced in February that 60 to 80 Applebee’s would close in 2018 after shuttering 99 last year and 46 the year before. Another 30 to 40 IHOPs are expected to close before the year is over.
“(People) don’t necessarily want to sit in a restaurant anymore,” Riley said. “It’s more of a to-go business now. We have the DoorDash now and all these (apps) that will pick up food for you and bring it to where you need it to go, so unfortunately I think it’s moving into that direction.”
Although Applebee’s doesn’t bill itself as comfort food, familiarity, a broad menu and a cushioned booth can still go a long way for seniors and families traveling with kids.
JoAnn and David Pelz, Davis residents in their early 80s, went to the Davis Applebee’s Tuesday for dinner. With friends passing through town Friday, the Pelzs knew where they’d find a large and affordable menu to entertain their guest.
“You can get just about anything you want here ... and they’re a step above some and a step below others in cost,” JoAnn Pelz said Friday from outside Applebee’s. “There really isn’t any place that’s quite like it.”