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Food & Beverage

Thai-owned luxury grocer Dean & DeLuca files for US bankruptcy

American chain seeks protection from creditors as its Asia business charts own path

A Whole Foods Market in New York. American grocers like Dean & DeLuca have been squeezed in recent years by bigger rivals such as Whole Foods Market, owned by Amazon.com, and Trader Joe's.    © Reuters

NEW YORK -- Thai-owned luxury grocer and cafe Dean & DeLuca has filed for bankruptcy in the U.S., after the parent company's failed attempts to revive the chain amid growing competition in its native market.

The bankruptcy petition, filed in a New York court Tuesday and signed by Sorapoj Techakraisri, chief executive of Thai real estate group Pace Development, shows Dean & DeLuca has under $50 million in assets, while facing $275 million in debt, as shown in other court documents.

The Chapter 11 filing follows a string of financial problems for the gourmet food retailer and as well as parent Pace, which defaulted on 2.6 billion baht ($79 million) of debt in October. Pace bought Dean & DeLuca in 2014 for $140 million

Pace had pumped more than $200 million into Dean & DeLuca before the chain ran out of cash in mid-2019, Joseph Baum, the upscale food vendor's chief restructuring officer, said in a court declaration.

The same document shows that Dean & DeLuca owes $250 million to owner Pace and $45 million to Siam Commercial Bank, Thailand's largest commercial bank.

Last year, Dean & DeLuca shuttered all its locations in New York, including its flagship store in the trendy SoHo neighborhood in Manhattan, after more than four decades in the city. Dean & DeLuca's U.S. head count is down to one employee.

But the grocer aims to "reopen stores and rehire employees, and provide financial returns and new business opportunities to creditors," Baum said in the filing.

The troubled chain also faces lawsuits from vendors and landlords demanding payments, including from the Trump Building in Manhattan at 40 Wall Street -- a Trump Organization property.

American grocers like Dean & DeLuca have been squeezed in recent years by bigger rivals such as Whole Foods Market, owned by Amazon.com, and Trader Joe's, which position themselves as vendors of healthy foods at more affordable prices.

Dean & DeLuca's Chapter 11 filing shows it owes about $230,000 to the Thai Ministry of Finance and more than $2 million to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

Since its acquisition, parent company Pace has created separate Dean & DeLuca-branded subsidiaries in Asian markets, including Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong, as well as a joint venture in Japan.

Last summer, Techakraisri told Thailand's The Nation that Dean & DeLuca's U.S. operations made up about 35% of the business, and that Pace plans to open some 100 Dean & DeLuca stores in Thailand in the next three to five years. 

In Asia, Dean & DeLuca operates as a restaurant cafe rather than as a grocer, which it is primarily known for in its native U.S.

The chain, which launched a new location in Bangkok this week, is offering food and beverage for takeout or delivery in Thailand -- partnering with Singapore's Grab -- as the coronavirus outbreak there keeps many at home. 

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