Barnes & Noble admits that restaurants will not save it

Going somewhere?
Going somewhere?
Image: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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In 2016, Barnes & Noble announced a plan to lure new customers with a wine and beer menu and $24 salmon. The new sit-down restaurants prompted speculation that the flailing bookseller was trying to save itself with food.

Five restaurants and two years later, it would seem the results are a resounding: Nope.

In an earnings call today, B&N chairman Len Riggio indicated he does not have high hopes for Barnes & Noble Kitchen. “The top line on the restaurants is good; the bottom line is awful,” he said. “It’s a very mixed bag,” he said of the endeavor.

While the company will continue to improve its in-store Starbucks cafés, the restaurant concept appears to have played itself out, somewhat predictably perhaps, with the “essential problem being that we do not have a culture of running, operating restaurants,” said Riggio. “We have no experience in the hospitality area. Things like controlling food costs or payroll costs are not in our DNA.”

You can’t really blame the company for trying, though. The health of Barnes & Noble is essential to the success of the greater US bookselling industry, and experimenting with new store layouts may in fact be crucial for the chain to survive in the age of Amazon.

But at the moment B&N is also embroiled in a very public–and likely very distracting—crisis of leadership. In July, the company fired CEO Demos Parneros without severance after 15 months on the job, citing unspecified violations of company policy. Last week, Parneros sued for wrongful termination and accused Riggio, who founded the book chain, of being a controlling bully who engineered his ousting. On today’s call, Riggio again denied the accusations and denounced Parneros. He also said that an active search for a new CEO has yet to start.