Oceanaire Seafood Room closes in Seattle.

It was a surprise yesterday for The Oceanaire Seafood Room restaurant employees nationwide when they learned the parent company had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, abruptly shuttering four of its 16 restaurants, including those in Seattle, Cincinnati, Charlotte and Philadelphia.

When the Oceanaire unlocked its stately revolving glass door on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Olive Way in January 2002, patrons and critics alike embraced the steakhouse-styled, fish-focused concept, the third for a Minneapolis-based chain. Known for a menu featuring 30 types of fresh seafood — much of it flown in fresh twice daily — Oceanaire was an instant hit in a city where homegrown seafood restaurants are a dime a dozen.

“The strategic decision that Oceanaire has chosen to take today [Monday] will help establish a firm financial base and allow us to implement the operational initiatives necessary to build a stronger and more competitive company,” company CEO Terry Ryan said in a prepared statement. “During our restructuring, we expect to conduct business as usual in the vast majority of our markets, and intend to work with our current vendors and to continue operations without interruption to our customers.”

While Ryan was in Philadelphia delivering the bad news, Wade Wiestling, Oceanaire vice president of culinary development, was in Seattle, helping contact the restaurant’s 68 employees as well as its vendors and preparing to donate much of the restaurant’s inventory to an organization affiliated with the nonprofit Food Lifeline.

“The Seattle restaurant was a feather in our cap, for everyone in the company,” Wiestling said. “We didn’t expect it to end like this.”

As with the closures elsewhere, the decision was based, he said, on the company’s inability to renegotiate its current lease with its landlord. “The restaurants didn’t fail. The economy failed the restaurants.”