Chain Beverage Buzz: June 11, 2012

The National Restaurant Association predicts restaurants will add 450,000 jobs this summer season, an increase of 4.6% over the March 2012 employment level. This would mark the highest summer employment numbers since 1993. Nearly 1 million restaurants employ 13 million people—almost 10% of the United States’ overall workforce, according to Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of NRA’s research and knowledge group. New York (43,800), California (32,900), Massachusetts (28,800), Texas (24,600), New Jersey (22,900), Michigan (20,100), Ohio (19,900) and Illinois (19,400) are the states projected to add the most restaurant jobs this summer. Complete state-by-state projections, plus a national 10-year review of restaurant summer employment can be found on the association's website.

Ruby Tuesday Inc. founder, chairman, chief executive and president Sandy Beall will step down from his positions at Ruby Tuesday upon completion of a search for his successor. No timetable has been given. Beall opened the first Ruby Tuesday near the University of Tennessee campus in Knoxville, Tenn., in 1972. Today the Maryville, Tenn.-based company operates 740 company-owned units and franchises another 85 locations.

Benihana Inc. will go private in a $296 million deal with Angelo, Gordon & Co.’s Private Equity Group. Angelo Gordon agreed to acquire the Miami-based company’s common stock for $16.30 per share in cash. “After evaluating the company’s strategic alternatives, we are pleased to reach agreement with Angelo Gordon,” said Richard C. Stockinger, chairman, president and CEO of the company’s 62 Benihanas, eight Harus and 25 RA Sushi restaurants. “We feel that this transaction with Angelo Gordon recognizes the value of the Benihana brands and delivers a significant cash premium to the Company's shareholders.”

Cheddar's Casual Café, owned by private equity firms Catterton Partners and Oak Investment Partners, filed confidentially for an initial public offering, which could come late in the second quarter. It would raise around $100 million for the Arlington, Texas-based company, sources told Reuters. According to the company’s website, Cheddar’s operates 115 locations across the country.

Real Mex Restaurants Inc. CEO David Goronkin stepped down from his position, which he started in June 2011, to become CEO of the San Diego-headquartered Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp. Chris Thomas, chairman of the Cypress, Calif.-based company, will serve as interim CEO. Goronkin’s move comes three months after the company was acquired out of bankruptcy and launched a turnaround effort for its El Torito, Chevys Fresh Mex and Acapulco brands.

As part of the second phase of its fundraising efforts for Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry program, Ted’s Montana Grill introduced a new line of private label wines, exclusively for the restaurants: Bison Ridge Chardonnay 2011, Bison Ridge Merlot 2010 and Bison Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($6.50/glass, $26/bottle). The Atlanta-based company has pledged to raise $150,000 for No Kid Hungry at its 44 restaurants.

O’Charley’s Inc. has closed 14 underperforming locations of its O’Charley’s chain in various markets, including Alabama, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Indiana. Earlier this year, Fidelity National Financial Inc. acquired the Nashville, Tenn.-headquartered company and its O’Charley’s, Ninety Nine and Stoney River restaurants.


Applebee’s parent company DineEquity Inc. took another step forward in its quest to divest of real estate in the full-service chain with the sale of 33 company-owned locations, primarily in Missouri and Indiana. The deal, which is expected to close during the third quarter, was struck with Greenwich, Conn.-based American Franchise Capital LLC. Since acquiring the chain in November 2007, Glendale, Calif.-based DineEquity has sold 342 company-owned Applebee’s locations to franchisees. The group operates and franchises 2,018 Applebee’s restaurants, as well as the 1,551-unit IHOP brand. In related news, Summit Restaurant Group LLC affiliate Neighborhood Restaurant Partners Florida LLC acquired the assets and development rights of Tampa, Fla.-based Casual Restaurant Concepts Inc. and CRC II LLC, which owned and operated 50 Applebee’s restaurants in the Tampa and Orlando markets.

Bahama Breeze Island Grille announced a new list of tropical drinks, “Legendary Island Cocktails,” sourced from world-famous locales such as the Soggy Dollar Bar in the British Virgin Islands and Old San Juan's Parrot Club in Puerto Rico. The eight authentic cocktails, including The Original Daiquiri, Painkiller and Dark ‘N Stormy, are created with the same techniques and ingredients that made them famous.


Boston, Mass.-based Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group introduced three new cocktails as part of its rollout of new summer menu items throughout its nine Smith & Wollensky locations. The cocktails, priced $13 or $14, include the Hangar Lime Spritzer (Hangar One Kaffir Lime vodka, Smith & Wollensky’s “Private Reserve” Sauvignon Blanc and lime juice), the Skinny Rita (Ty Ku sake liqueur and tequila), and the Skinny Mojito (Ty Ku sake liqueur, Bacardi Limón, mint leaves and club soda).

Private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners LP has agreed to buy the 25-unit Fogo de Chão chain from GP Investments Ltd. Sao Paulo, Brazil-based GP Investments valued the deal for the full-service Brazilian-style churascarria chain at about $400 million. The companies said they expect to close the deal in the third quarter. Boston-based Thomas H. Lee Partners was part of a group that bought Dunkin’ Brands Inc. and took it public in 2011.

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