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DETROIT-Two prototype stores are opening by the new company Big Boy Restaurants International, with hopes of turning around a company that declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2000. More than 50 restaurants were closed throughout the US by Elias Bros. Restaurants Inc. to stem losses two years ago.

Now, a new owner has plans to open most of them back up with a new look.

“We’re opening two prototype stores, a conventional sit-down restaurant and a fast-food type restaurant, both with the signature Big Boy menu,” says Tony Michaels, president and chief executive officer of Big Boy Restaurants. “We spent a good year designing these new stores. We had to take a lot of costs out, and we were able to take thousands of dollars out of the construction costs.”

The popular restaurant is a cultural icon, with the large Big Boy statue standing holding a large burger outside of the stores.

Michaels tells GlobeSt.com the first new sit-down version of the store, with 4,400 sf, is being built in Grand Rapids on Pearl Street. It will open in December, he reports.

The new restaurant will have more graphics, a separate carry-out entrance, a small memorabilia store and a “Shake Shop” as customers walk in, offering shakes and malts.

“The real key is to keep the great feeling of Big Boy and make it more fun, and not alienate the current customer base,” Michaels says.

The first fast-food Big Boy will open on the site of one of the closed restaurants on Grand River and Abbott roads in East Lansing, he says.

The company owns around 20 stores, and has more than 430 franchise stores across the globe. Company officials says the franchisees will likely have to spend up to $50,000 to renovate their current stores to merge with the new look.

After Elias Bros. closed many of the restaurants, including all stores in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Grosse Pointe resident Robert Liggett bought Elias Bros. in late 2000 for about $25 million. The new company made a quick turnaround, eliminating a projected 25% drop in revenue in the first quarter of 2001, Michaels notes.

“Any time a company goes into bankruptcy, you expect to lose money,” he explains. “We moved so fast and in such a strong fashion, we were able to be up to a 5% profit increase, a really nice thing.”

Michaels said the plan is to reopen most of the new stores with the new designs.

“We reopened one of the older, closed stores early, about three weeks ago, in Coldwater, MI. We’ve reopened five of the stores since the company was purchased,” Michaels notes.

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