Mr. K’s Barbecue at North Stone Avenue and East River Road closed on Sunday, making the 2-year-old eatery the latest casualty along a stretch of retail road that has been particularly unkind to restaurants in recent years.
Over the past decade, the Stone Avenue retail corridor between East River and East Wetmore roads has swallowed eight restaurants, including outposts of four national chains — Ruby Tuesday, Chili’s Bar and Grill, Black-eyed Pea and On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina. Several of those restaurants have remained closed for several years, skeletons in a once-bustling entertainment area on the backside of Tucson Mall.
But before you label the area a business jinx, longtime retail and restaurant real estate broker Craig Finfrock said some of those restaurants “were doomed for failure.”
“Sometimes it’s not just the location: It’s the tenant,” said Finfrock, pointing to On the Border, Ruby Tuesday and Chili’s, which closed as part of their parent companies’ nationwide downsizing.
But he said several businesses have left the River and Stone corridor for locations closer to Tucson Mall.
Mr. K’s closed on Sunday after two years of struggling to make ends meet, said Richard Yellott, whose Ironwood Dining company operated the restaurant.
“We just couldn’t make enough money to stay in business,” said Yellott, who joined the venture in 2011 as a silent investor then took a leadership role when one of the partners left early on. “That’s such a big building there. Our overhead was really high. Our fixed costs were really high. September was the worst month we ever had and at the end of the month we just couldn’t make it work.”
Yellott said he made the decision to close the restaurant Sunday and shut the doors at 3 p.m. Fifteen employees, most of them part-timers, lost their jobs.
Mr. K’s was started by Charles Kendrick and his daughter Ronda. The Kendricks own the name and concept, but not the restaurant, said Ronda Kendrick.
“We represent the brand,” she said, adding that the idea behind Mr. K’s was to honor her father, a pioneer in Tucson barbecue. Charles Kendrick, who turns 82 on Friday, had a small barbecue restaurant on South Park Avenue for 13 years before opening the Stone Avenue restaurant.
The Original Mr. K’s, run by Kendrick’s son Ray, is now at 6302 S. Park Ave.
Ronda Kendrick would not comment on the closing, citing pending legal issues, but Charles Kendrick blamed poor management.
“The management hadn’t lived up to expectations, and a lot of things that should have been taken care of didn’t get taken care of,” said Kendrick, who hopes to one day open another Mr. K’s in a smaller location. “The business was good, but let’s face the facts: The bills weren’t paid that should have been paid.”
Yellott said he was a couple months behind in the lease but had been working with the landlord.
“Essentially, everything was getting behind on us,” he said. “Our business was somewhat unpredictable, and we had a really bad month (in September). We have been living paycheck to paycheck over there for two years because it cost a lot to build the business. We started out paying all of our development debt, and we just never got ahead enough to be profitable.”
Finfrock said River and Stone draws plenty of traffic to the area, but the stronger retail draw is closer to Tucson Mall near Oracle Road.
“The best retailers are locating at Oracle and Wetmore because it’s a better location,” he said, noting that one of his clients, Men’s Wearhouse at 90 W. River Road, across from Mr. K’s, will move to that area next spring.