Boll Weevil closes all 6 company stores

Boll Weevil, a landmark San Diego restaurant chain that took its improbable name from an agricultural pest, shuttered six company-owned stores this week after filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy.


The abrupt closing left about 60 to 70 employees without jobs and several of them are owed weeks of back wages, according to one Boll Weevil restaurant manager.

“I’m sad, it’s all I know right now,” said Mindy Gretler, 33, the manager of the closed Lakeside Boll Weevil restaurant and company employee for 16 years. “How are we going to find a job when the economy is like this?”

Four other Boll Weevil restaurants that are owned by independent franchisees are not part of the corporate bankruptcy. Those stores are in Lemon Grove, Imperial Beach, Clairemont Mesa and Ramona.

Brenda Halleman Richardson, president of Boll Weevil and the daughter of the chain’s founder, the late Fred Halleman, did not return telephone calls.

The Boll Weevil chain grew from the now-closed Cotton Patch restaurant, a popular steak joint that opened in 1947 on Midway Drive and drew celebrity customers such as actor John Wayne.

In 1967, Halleman bought a building next to the Cotton Patch and converted it into a red and white hamburger restaurant – the first Boll Weevil.

Despite its unappetizing moniker – the boll weevil is a beetle that feeds on cotton buds and that devastated U.S. cotton crops in the 1920s – patrons relished the restaurant’s signature half-pound Steerburger and the “build-your-own-burger” condiment tray that accompanied it.

During Halleman’s ownership, the company added about one new unit a year and at one time had 19 restaurants. When Halleman died in 1984, his daughter, Brenda Halleman Richardson, led a buyout of the business from the family trust and started to franchise the concept.

Ultimately, the restaurant chain got into financial trouble. In 1996, Boll Weevil filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and reemerged in 1997 with about 17 restaurants and eight franchised units.

In 2004, the California Labor Commission temporarily shut down a dozen Boll Weevil restaurants after investigators discovered that 169 employees were working without workers’ compensation insurance protection.

The stores were allowed to reopen after insurance was obtained, and the company was fined $100,000.

The franchise continued to dwindle. In July 2007, Boll Weevil, which by then had six restaurants and four franchises, filed again for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Last week, the Chapter 11 reorganization was converted into a Chapter 7 liquidation, and the company’s restaurants in Shelter Island, Mira Mesa, Bonita, San Marcos, La Mesa and Lakeside were closed this week.

Boll Weevil lists assets of $1.1 million and liabilities of $2.7 million in its bankruptcy filing.

Penni Crabtree: (619) 293-1237;