La Provence, the fashionable French restaurant in the Morris Mechanic Theater building, has been closed and put up for sale by its owner, who is turning his attention to franchising his rotisserie chicken operation.

"My management team is limited and I have to decide where to focus my attention," said Jonathan N. Soudry, the owner of La Provence and two rotisserie chicken restaurants in Towson and Pikesville. "My decision was to focus on [the new] concept and develop it to its optimum."

The 240-seat restaurant at 9 Hopkins Plaza was closed Jan. 1 and 40 of the 45-person staff were laid off, Mr. Soudry said. An auction of the business is scheduled for Feb. 9.

Mr. Soudry, who owned La Provence for 10 years, said he wants to pursue his ambition of building a national rotisserie chicken and deli chain. He has established Poulet-Jonathan's Rotisserie/Deli, a fast-food operation in Pikesville, and Poulet USA, a full-service restaurant adjacent to Towson State University.

He has franchise agreements with two groups of investors to expand the Poulet-Jonathan's Rotisserie/Deli operation in the local area and in North Carolina, Mr. Soudry said. He hopes the first two franchise stores will start operating in May or June in Pikesville and in Winston-Salem, N.C.

After those initial openings, as many as 20 more franchise operations may follow in North Carolina and another two may be started locally, Mr. Soudry said. He would not identify the investment groups.

Rotisserie chicken has become a booming business in the last year with such heavyweights as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Roy Rogers and Boston Chicken getting into the act. But Mr. Soudry has confidence in his product, which is seasoned the way it is done in his native Marseille. "I serve a chicken with a strong personality," he said.

Mr. Soudry said he decided to close La Provence because the Mechanic Theater, which generates about 35 percent of the restaurant's business, did not have another play scheduled until Feb. 22. "The theater is dark and the weather was horrible," he said.

Even though an auction has been scheduled, Mr. Soudry said he might sell the restaurant before that date if he can find a suitable buyer. He said he decided to hold an auction to attract attention to the restaurant.

"If I do something as drastic as an auction, it will stir the market," he said.

If he is not successful in finding a buyer, he may reopen it by contracting with a management team to operate it, he said. "We have a 100 percent chance of being reopened," he said.

Mr. Soudry said all his businesses, including La Provence, are profitable, and he is not having financial problems.

Even if he sells the restaurant, Mr. Soudry will still be its landlord, since he will continue to hold the lease with the Morris A. Mechanic Foundation, owner of the theater complex. He is also the landlord for the five food stalls in the adjoining Food Bazaar and the Grand Slam Deli.

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