Saturday January 26, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- Following a seven-month hiatus, Burger King is returning to the greater Pittsfield area.

Two of the three former Burger King sites that were bought at a foreclosure auction in November have a new franchise operator who hopes to open both locations by April, their new franchisee said.

If everything goes to plan, Stanley Paulauskas of Worthington said on Friday that the Burger King on Route 7 in Lenox is targeted to open by March 1 and the one on First Street in Pittsfield by the first week in April. Paulauskas is a veteran Burger King franchise owner who has been associated with the company since 1981.

The Lenox and First Street Burger King properties are owned by Berkshire resident Jason Berger who owns the eateries through Church Street Holdings, a real estate investment company.

According to Paulauskas, Burger King Corp. approved the franchise agreement that would allow him to operate the two restaurants two weeks ago. Paulauskas said he is planning to hire between 25 and 30 employees to work the Lenox eatery and between 30 and 35 for the First Street restaurant.

The former Burger King on Merrill Road in Pittsfield has a different owner. Plans for its future use are still unknown.

The Burger King Corp. closed the three restaurants abruptly in June after owner Richard C. George, of Pittsfield, defaulted on his franchise agreement, according to U.S. Federal Court documents filed in Miami. TD Bank, which held the mortgage on the three properties, then initiated foreclosure proceedings, which culminated when they were sold at auction for a combined $2.8 million.

Paulauskas is the president of FBS Inc., of Southampton, which operates 10 Burger Kings in the Pioneer Valley and north central Connecticut. Berger said he had met Paulauskas prior to buying the two Burger King properties for $1.5 million, and decided to bring him on board because he was impressed with his operating skills.

"From what I can tell and my experience with him, he really runs a top-notch organization," he said.

Paulauskas has already begun advertising for full- and part-time management candidates.

"I'm going to start hiring in 15 days if everything falls into place," Paulauskas said.

"We think it's going to work out very well," said Paulauskas. "There could be other opportunities for potential sites up there [in the Berkshires] once we get those up and running."

The Burger King employees who were laid off when the three restaurants closed last June will be given the "first shot" at the new positions, he said.

"When they closed back in June, a couple of their better management people reached out to us, and we picked them up for our restaurant in Chicopee," Paulauskas said. "They will actually go back and be part of our team."

Paulauskas said the Lenox restaurant will re-open first because the First Street eatery needs to be remodeled. The Lenox restaurant doesn't need an extensive makeover because it was remodeled after a fire that occurred there a few years ago, he said. Both the interior and the exterior of the First Street restaurant will be changed.

"It will still look like a Burger King, but it will be more cosmetic," Paulauskas said. "There will be a whole new dining package in there. It's hard to describe, but it will be pretty sharp with flat-panel televisions and Wi-Fi for business people."

Paulauskas plans to meet with city officials next week to determine if he needs any permits to reconstruct the First Street restaurant.

"It's been closed for less than seven months, so I don't foresee any issues," he said.

Originally from New Britain, Conn., Paulauskas spent 18 years with McDonald's before joining Burger King 32 years ago.

"I've been doing this for a very long time," he said. "People describe me as having ketchup in my veins."

Paulauskas said he had been interested in operating a Burger King in the Berkshires for several years, and had tried to purchase the three Pittsfield-area restaurants from George three years ago.

"We tried to cut a deal. It just didn't make sense financially," he said.

Burger King has operated in Pittsfield since 1979 and in Lenox since 1987.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6224.