5 in Running for Furr’s Account

DALLAS Nearly a year after emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Furr’s Cafeteria expects to choose an ad agency from a list of five contenders, sources said. The winner could be named before the end of the month, said sources.

The client declined to reveal the contenders. Incumbent The Loomis Agency, a Dallas-based independent, remained with the cafeteria chain through bankruptcy and continues to produce advertising, sources said.

With 58 cafeterias and buffet restaurants, Furr’s spent about $2 million on advertising in 2003 but only $200,000 through July, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus. The cafeterias run ads on TV and in print in their local markets.

Furr’s, based in Richardson, Texas, was sold to Dallas-based Buffet Partners last September, allowing it to reorganize after nine months in Chapter 11. With backing from Cardinal Investment Co. in Dallas, Buffet Partners was created to take Furr’s out of bankruptcy. Cardinal also holds stakes in Cafe Express, Restoration Hardware, DF&R Restaurants and Ace Cash Express.

Furr’s has come under intense pressure from other all-you-can-eat restaurants in recent years. The company attributed some of its problems to a three-tier pricing strategy that confused customers. The cafeterias have returned to a one-price, all-you-can-eat model. The newest Furr’s in McAllen, Texas, is a self-serve buffet.

In addition to the Furr’s cafeterias operating in the western U.S., Buffet Partners owns Stevie B’s buffet restaurants in Florida.