What really happened to the No Name restaurant, which shut its doors last week after a 102-year run?
The Contos family, which owns it, still isn’t talking. Well, at least their lawyer isn’t. But we know a lot more than we did a week ago. Based on the restaurant’s bankruptcy filing and interviews, we know the No Name was struggling financially for some time.
The restaurant, located on the Fish Pier, was behind on the rent for three months and owed its landlord, the Massachusetts Port Authority, about $93,000, including for utilities. Let me guess: This probably wasn’t the first time the No Name has owed Massport money.
Starting in 2013, the No Name stopped paying property taxes to the City of Boston, amassing a nearly $700,000 bill since then. The city knew the No Name was in arrears, but somehow the beloved institution was allowed to become a beloved tax scofflaw.
While the restaurant’s closure may have taken some patrons and workers by surprise, it appears the Contos family had been preparing for a wind-down. The restaurant business only gets tougher during the months of January and February — if you’re going to go belly up, winter’s the time to do it.
Some clues: The No Name had its paperwork in order and had made sure to withdraw $9,900 to pay workers, in cash, before filing on Dec. 30 for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, which provides for the liquidation of property to pay off creditors.
“It does show signs of an orderly shutdown. They planned it,” said Daniel Cohn, a Boston lawyer who specializes in business bankruptcies but is not involved in this case.
Reading between the lines, both Massport and the city had a soft spot for the No Name and tried to throw it a lifeline amid a hyper-competitive restaurant scene in the Seaport District. The fried seafood and chowder restaurant traded on a no-frills feel, a strategy that worked decades ago when there were few choices on the waterfront. But today, nostalgia gets you only so far. Just ask the owners of Doyle’s and Durgin Park, both similarly “venerable” places that closed in 2019.
Whether Massport and the city made the right call by going easy on the No Name will depend on whether the city’s tax rolls can be made whole.
That, in large part, will be up to Harry Murphy, the Boston lawyer that the US Bankruptcy Court has appointed as trustee for the case. Murphy, who also was trustee for the Necco candy company bankruptcy — has already been to the restaurant to assess what can be sold to generate revenue to pay creditors. A public auction of furniture, equipment, and memorabilia is expected to take place in February.
Big-ticket items detailed in the bankruptcy filing include the restaurant’s beer and wine license (valued at $140,000) and its lease with Massport (“may have significant value”). The lease runs through 2024, with an option for another five years. According to Massport, the No Name occupied about 7,200 square feet and paid $27,000 a month in rent.
Murphy told me he has already met with city officials, who realize their ability to collect will depend on how much can be recovered in the bankruptcy case. Murphy expects the process to take up to a year.
“We hope to work together to make the best of a bad situation,” he said.
From what Murphy can tell, the No Name’s business has been on the wane for years. Last year, the restaurant generated about $3 million in revenue, down from about $3.2 million in 2018, according to bankruptcy documents.
“There’s an expression: How do you go bankrupt? Slowly and then suddenly,” Murphy said. “It didn’t happen overnight. The concept was a good one, but it got old, and there are now multiple other alternatives.”
I reached out to major creditors — many of them seafood suppliers owed tens of thousands of dollars — but they weren’t exactly a chatty bunch.
James Hook, owner of the James Hook & Co. seafood company, said he has done business with the No Name for a long time, but lately supplied lobster and lobster meat on an as-needed basis.
Hook described the closing as a surprise, but at the same time alluded to a generational shift.
Nick Contos’s father, a Greek immigrant, opened the Deluxe Diner in 1917 where the No Name is today; Nick started working there in 1960 and soon after took over the business. When Nick Contos died in 2004, his daughter recalled how he typically did not come home until midnight after working at the No Name, taking only three vacations during her lifetime.
“Things change,” Hook said in a brief interview.
Nick Collins, the senator from South Boston who has worried about the future of the century-old Fish Pier, said it can be tough for businesses on the pier to figure out how much maintenance and reinvestment is needed and whether it’s worth it.
Collins wasn’t sure if Massport or the city could have done anything differently to help save the No Name, but this much he knows: “We have to look at how we can better support businesses to get over their hurdles before they become existential threats,” he said.
“It begs the question: How can we recruit diverse businesses to the waterfront when we can’t keep the No Name open?”
The No Name may have run its course, but what will take its place? Let’s hope it’s not another Seaport District restaurant that caters to the rich and well-fed.