Papa Gino's. PHOTO BY PATTY STOCKER

Shuttering of Papa Gino’s and D’Angelo’s in Westford leaves Employees Out in the Cold

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When David Short arrived at Papa Gino’s on the morning of Nov. 5 he found people carrying out equipment from the pizza restaurant where he was employed.

Papa Gino’s at the Westford Valley Marketplace was shutting down without warning and about 25 employees were now finding themselves out of work.

Also shuttered was the D’Angelo Grilled Sandwiches restaurant across the street.

PGHC Holdings, Inc., the parent company of the two restaurant chains announced later that day that it had closed 95 under-performing restaurants across New England, and had reached an agreement in principle to sell the company to a Wynnchurch Capital portfolio company. PGHC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Monday.

One-hundred Papa Gino’s and 78 D’Angelo restaurants remain open for business. The company has restaurants throughout New England with the majority in Massachusetts. According to published reports, 1,100 employees were laid off and 3,000 remain on the job.

The closing leaves 12 out of 30 storefronts vacant at the Westford Valley Marketplace. But Andy LaGrega, a principal of the Wilder Companies, said he views the restaurant’s departure as an opportunity to add a more trendy service-related business or restaurant. Wilder manages the shopping plaza.

“As much as Papa Gino’s was an institution when my kids were growing up 30 years ago,” he said, “it’s not one of the contemporary restaurants.”

LaGrega divulged that he and his colleagues had been in discussion with Papa Gino’s over the past two years to end the restaurant’s lease early. The restaurant’s departure increases the capacity of the plaza’s septic system and frees Wilder to bring in more businesses with services that can’t be purchased over the Internet, such as boutique fitness shops and trendier restaurants, LaGrega said.

“We’re negotiating three leases for three new tenants,” he said, adding that he expects the new businesses to take possession after Jan. 1.

Short, 19, was one of the luckier employees at Papa Gino’s. He’s been offered a job at the Chelmsford restaurant which the company will keep open. The D’Angelo restaurant in Chelmsford was shuttered. Short said two-thirds of the employees who worked at the Westford restaurant live in Westford.

“All the high school kids were really devastated that they couldn’t work here anymore,” Short stated. “In all honesty, we all enjoyed working here so much and had no intentions of leaving in the near future.”

He worked part-time at night as a shift leader, overseeing the production of food, delivery times, and quality of service, while attending Middlesex Community College during the day.

A media release issued by PGHC on its Facebook page said the proposed sale “would significantly strengthen the chains’ financial resources, allowing PGHC to remodel and modernize their 141 company-owned restaurants in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut.” It would also enable the company to open more restaurants throughout New England and “enhance its online ordering capabilities.”

PGHC Chief Financial Officer Corey Wendland said the closings allows the company to strengthen its financial footing and secure capital for investment in the restaurants while addressing a significant debt load.

“We are pleased to have reached an agreement that will ensure a long and prosperous future for these iconic New England restaurants,” Wendland said.

Wynnchurch is a $2.2 billion private equity firm investing in companies headquartered in the U.S. and Canada. The sale would require court approval and PGHC will solicit competing offers.

But for Short and his fellow employees, it all comes down to the people who lost their jobs.

“I feel that this has really affected a lot of lives, all the kids that worked here, and my bosses,” he said.