Tuesday, November 3, 2009

News roundup for a Special Edition day

Today’s definitely a high point in the news cycle. The business day is only a few hours old, yet we’ve already seen…

  • The startling announcement that OSI Restaurant Partners, the troubled parent of Outback Steakhouse and four other casual-dining chains, has reached outside the business to tap the president of Avon as its new CEO. Yes, that’s Avon, as in “ding-dong, Avon calling.” The new hire, Liz Smith, has worked in the food business, but on the grocery side, serving as the president of Kraft Food’s U.S. operations.

    Smith will succeed Bill Allen, who will continue as chairman after his retirement from the corner office on Nov. 15. Allen is one of the gems of the business, so its fortunate he’ll still be involved, albeit somewhat at arm’s length.

  • After nearly two years of trying, and showing how shrewd of a tactician he can be, Tilman Fertitta has succeeded in getting Landry’s Restaurans to let him take it private.

    Fertitta, the company’s founder and CEO, already owned 55% of Landry’s stock, so you’d think it would have been a cakewalk. But he’s repeatedly run into complications, including a refusal by the board he chairs to disclose information it regarded as confidential. By that time, the board had accepted one of his offers. But rather than divulge inside stuff about the company’s dealings with lenders, the directors changed their mind in January 2009 and told Fertitta the deal was off.

    Throughout the gyrations, the crafty suitor was buying shares on the open market. The combination of those purchases and the slide in restaurant stock prices have enabled him to trim his bid to $14.75 a share, compared with the $23.50 he’d originally offered back in January 2008.

    Fertitta also bought a sizeable minority stake in McCormick & Schmick’s, a competitor to Landry’s namesake brand.

  • Today brought news that two of Chicago’s fine-dining pioneers will be firing down their stoves for the last time. Nick’s Fishmarket, a fixture of the Loop for more than 30 years, couldn’t survive the times. Owner Lee Suckow told the Chicago Sun-Times that business was off 30% from a year ago.

    Even longer in the tooth was Don Roth’s Blackhawk, in the suburb of Wheeling. Don Roth, who opened the landmark in 1969, had been the Wolfgang Puck of his time, imbuing the place with a showmanship that made it the place to copy. Roth’s widow, Ann, is still involved in the business at age 90.

    In announcing the restaurant’s closing, she noted that none of their children are interested in taking control of the business.

    The restaurant will serve its last prime rib on New Year’s Eve.
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