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Staff photo by Dave Flessner / Sticky Fingers restaurant outside Hamilton Place mall has closed due to the financial impact of the coronavirus and the vacant building is up for sale or lease.

The Sticky Fingers restaurant at Hamilton Place has closed its doors for the final time as it and at least five more of the brand's eateries have succumbed to the impact of the coronavirus.

The Sticky Fingers in downtown Chattanooga remains open along with just two others, both in South Carolina, according to the company's website.

A recorded phone message for the Hamilton Place restaurant located outside the mall said that the eatery was permanently closed due to the coronavirus.

The message, the same as at the other five closed sites, said the company had explored many options to serve customers but the efforts were unsuccessful, and that it implemented financial measures to ensure the stability of the company.

A phone call to the company's corporate office in South Carolina wasn't immediately returned.

The chain was started in 1992 by Baylor School graduates Chad Walldorf, Jeff Goldstein and Todd Eischeid. At one point, the company had 23 locations.

Walldorf, in a 2017 telephone interview, said he sold off his interest in the chain in 2006. But he had returned then as "chief support officer" in an effort to infuse new life into the business, which at that time had 12 restaurants.

Chattanooga real estate broker Rudy Walldorf, Chad's father and the listing agent for the Hamilton Place property, said on Thursday that his son had earlier left the company.

He said the property at the 7,000-square-foot Hamilton Place location, which closed earlier this month, is owned by a partnership of local people.

The sale price is $2.4 million or the owners are willing to lease it, the Herman Walldorf Commercial Real Estate broker said.

Walldorf said the eatery had tried serving just take-out food after the coronavirus outbreak before it completely shut down.

The other Sticky Finger locations which recently closed are in Greenville, Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Mount Pleasant and Summerville, South Carolina. Mount Pleasant was the eatery's first location.

Chad Walldorf said in the interview that in the first decade and half, the restaurant concept had grown to 15 eateries in five Southeast states with more than 1,000 employees.

"We had a good run," he said. "We didn't know what we were doing a lot of days, but we worked hard and tried to get better every day."

Over that period, the three entrepreneurs started families and decided it was time to sell, Walldorf said. A private equity firm which had succeeded operating other companies was the buyer and the trio thought even brighter days were ahead for Sticky Fingers, he said.

But the new management team changed the company culture "pretty dramatically," Walldorf said. The menu was expanded to try to be "more things to all people," he said.

Then the onset of the Great Recession in 2008 didn't help matters, Walldorf said.

After that, the restaurant company went through several owners with even its lenders taking over at one point, he said.

Walldorf said in 2017 that the chain was coming back. The company had streamlined its menu to focus on core items such as ribs, wings and barbecue, he said. Walldorf said the biggest shift was in the eatery's culture, with the company bringing back Memphis blues music.

Sales, Walldorf said then, were higher for the first time in years and expected to hit between $20 million and $25 million, up as much as 3%. And it had brought in NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young as a brand spokesman.

"We were losing a lot of money for a lot of years," he said. "We're not making a lot of money yet but we're not losing. We're moving in the right direction."

Rudy Walldorf said the Hamilton Place building was raised in 1989 as a seafood restaurant. It later became a Mexican eatery before housing a Sticky Fingers about two decades ago.

Most likely a restaurant will return to the site, but there's interest in converting it into office space, he said.

"It has good exposure," Walldorf said, noting that about 92,000 vehicles go past the building on Interstate-75 each day.

Sticky Fingers also once had a restaurant in Hixson, but that eatery closed in 2016.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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