New Chet's, Ohio Restaurant Name-Checked By Obama As Beneficiary Of Auto Bailout, To Close

06/09/2011 11:22 pm ET | Updated Aug 09, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The owners of an Ohio restaurant touted last week by President Barack Obama as an indirect beneficiary of the government's Chrysler bailout said Thursday that tough times are putting them out of business.

New Chet's Restaurant in Toledo, which opened in 1973, will close Sunday.

Richard and Berlyn Lawrence decided about two weeks ago that it was time to call it quits.

Richard Lawrence said the restaurant once sold 50 of its popular farmer's omelets each day and stayed open round the clock for 31 years.

But business dwindled after voters passed a smoking ban in 2006. And in 2008, Lawrence was shot by a robber posing as a motorist in need of help. Clientele got older and made fewer visits. The restaurant now serves mainly breakfast.

"Then the economy went sour on us," said Lawrence, 82. "I never laid anybody off until three years ago."

He said his restaurant once delivered $500 worth of food per week to Chrysler Group LLC's Jeep plant in Toledo, but now that's down to about $100 worth.

Obama visited the Jeep plant last Friday. He suggested that, without the auto plant's workers, Chet's and other local businesses would have fewer customers. Lawrence said the restaurant had never been contacted by the White House, and his wife said they were "flabbergasted" when Obama mentioned it.

"We didn't know what to say," said Berlyn Lawrence, 83. "We couldn't believe it."

The White House said no one knew when Obama was in Toledo that Chet's would be closing and that the restaurant waited until after the president's visit to announce the decision and put up a for-sale sign.

"In Toledo last week, the President noted that our economy has improved significantly in just the last two years," the White House said in a statement. "And that he'll keep up the fight until our economy and the working families affected by it have fully recovered."

Lawrence said about 100 people waited for three hours at the restaurant last Friday when a reporter and police officer told them Obama planned to stop in. Instead, Obama visited two other local restaurants. But, Lawrence said, the eatery made a killing that day.

"It was the best day of business that week," he said.

The Blade newspaper in Toledo first reported the planned closing Thursday and that gave business a boost.

But Lawrence said he regrets the attention being paid the president's remarks due to the restaurant closing.

"I truly never meant for anything like that. ... I know he meant well," Lawrence said. "They all fib a little. But it's unreal. I just feel bad about it."

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Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.

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