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After sudden closure, Flight Center owner says: ‘We’re all struggling right now’


The Flight Center opened about two years ago on South Willow Street and closed abruptly last week. File Photo/Carol Robidoux

MANCHESTER, NH – After nearly two years in business, Flight Center on South Willow Street last week abruptly closed.

Owner Seth Simonian confirmed on Monday that the restaurant, which featured a back-room “secret” speakeasy lounge in addition to the main pub-style restaurant, had been struggling.

Simonian declined to discuss the particulars of his negotiations with his landlord for this story as he continues to work with them to settle his affairs. Court documents showed that the landlord, CEA Bromfield, was owed $68,000 in back rent, according to reporting by the NH Union Leader.

“We have been weighing our options in the building for about six months due to increased labor rates, inflation, food costs and general operating costs,” Simonian said. “The building was becoming not very feasible to operate with the number of staff we needed to operate. I was working seven days a week just because we didn’t have enough bodies.”

He said that the reality of the situation is that in the nearly two years of operation, they never were able to achieve full staffing.

“Staffing really is a pain point – and when you’re paying line cooks $18-30 an hour and food costs are up 30-40  percent and utilities are up 100 percent since COVID. For the average consumer it’s the same as what you’re seeing in grocery stores and electric and gas bills, but magnify it on a larger scale – for three of my restaurants the electric went from $6,500 to almost $14,000 a month. There are certain things you can do, but you can’t charge $30 for a burger and beer,” Simonian said.

“And when you’re paying the person making the burger almost double what paid two years ago and costs are through the roof, it is what it is. At some point there’s a breaking point,” Simonian said. “Every restaurant owner will tell you – we’re all struggling and there’s no restaurant that isn’t hiring right now.”

A spokesperson for the New Hampshire Department of Labor on Monday said they are aware that the business has closed and have received some complaints, and that the situation is under investigation.

Simonian said management “did its best” to help people “rehome” or take another job within “the family,” referring to other restaurants Simonian operates, including Aviation Brewing Co. in Dover and Flight Center in Nashua.

“We offered jobs to about 65 percent of our staff and put other restaurant owners in touch with staff members,” Simonian said. “We retained about 45 percent of our staff.” 

He said that he was preparing to go to work Wednesday and was as taken aback as everyone else.

“We really weren’t given notice,” he said. As we were navigating all of this it quickly became a bit of a cluster of information, as people starting posting things online,” he said.

Former employee Olivia Kazanowski said she started working for Simonian at Flight Center before they opened in June of 2021 and was among those who were not given any notice that the restaurant was closing last week.

That is what’s bothering her most.

“I wasn’t scheduled to work Wednesday but I did get a text message from the manager at about noon that said ‘sheriff changed the locks.’ I started getting multiple messages from staff members who showed up for their shifts,” said Kazanowski. In hindsight, she said there were “red flags” that the business was struggling, including some weeks when people didn’t get paid and recent issues with vendors.

She also said that an eviction notice was delivered about a month ago which should have prompted Simonian to tell his staff that their jobs were in jeopardy.

Simonian says he’s working with the landlord to settle things and wants to move forward.

“Manchester is a challenging market. We started construction in the middle of the pandemic and opened under pandemic protocols and the business that lives there just never returned to South Willow,” Simonian said.

“It’s a blue-collar community and when your costs at home increase you’re not as likely to go out and eat. Our concept worked well and it was fantastic and successfully operated but our cost to operate never decreased and what we were struggling with was the real function of not being fully staffed in that building, ever,” Simonian said.

He said the cost of doing business these days means that few if any restaurants are thriving. For now, he says his other businesses are doing all right – although his Dover restaurant has been closed since last week following a robbery in which cash and alcohol were taken and some damage was done inside. “We plan to reopen in Dover sometime this week,” he said.

“Most of us are just surviving. People are still looking for one-dollar wing night or burger specials, but the harsh reality is that it’s a tough environment. It’s the reason you’re seeing veterans in this industry between 5-20 years throwing up their hands and retiring,” Simonian said. “We’re moving forward as best we can and our goal is to stay in motion and stay operating.”

An industry struggling for survival

Mike Somers, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Lodging & Restaurant Association said Simonian is not wrong about the state of the restaurant industry.

“I’ve been saying this to anyone who will listen – we’re still struggling to survive. Inflation is still extremely high and even though it’s tapering, for the better part of two years now, you’re seeing a 5-10 percent increase monthly,” Somers said.

Labor costs in New Hampshire are up 20-30 percent and food costs are up 15-25 percent depending on the time of year.

“We’re seeing those numbers soften but a year ago a case of chicken wings went from being $50 to $150 dollars,” Somers said.

He underscored Simonian’s point about the spike in energy costs, and confirmed that the No. 1 challenge for restaurant owners is finding and keeping staff.

“We’re in a market now where a line cook who once would get $15 an hour is now making $25 an hour and in some instances, even higher than that. For a restaurant owner the only way to recoup or make it profitable is to raise menu prices – and you have to be sensitive about raising prices,” Somers said.

It’s an economic shift that’s evident in other sectors, including travel, which means budgeting for a nice dinner out is still an option – but the public needs to understand why menu prices are up and service may be a little slow.

” I look at it as dining out is still an affordable luxury. You go out and feel special and a team of people take care of you. Even if you can’t afford a vacation it’s an experience you can afford. Are prices higher than they were two to three years ago? For sure. But what isn’t? ” Somers said.

And there is a flip side. With thousands of job openings in New Hampshire, there’s never been a better time to get into the hospitality industry.

“For those young folks who enjoy and thrive in that kind of fast-paced people-centered environment, they can print their own ticket,” Somers said. Everyone is looking for those people who are not just interested in work but who might want to move up into management – and they are paying the highest wages the industry has ever seen right now.”


About this Contributor

Carol Robidoux

PublisherManchester Ink Link

Longtime NH journalist and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com. Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!

1 thought on “After sudden closure, Flight Center owner says: ‘We’re all struggling right now’”

  1. Simonian’s has yet to pay his employees! He owes my daughter over $500! They had the nerve to offer work on Nashua after not paying her for 6 weeks! He is a crook!!!


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