Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Is Biglari making a run on Denny's?

Two investors in Denny's Corp. announced this morning that they're seeking three seats on the restaurant company's board because of dissatisfaction with the chain's direction and management. If their proxy challenge is successful, we may see the boldest takeover attempt yet by Sardar Biglari, the crafty and intriguing thirtysomething who has set out to build a restaurant empire.

Adding Denny's to his fold, or even attempting it, would be a moonshot compared with Sardari's previous efforts to become the Warren Buffett of the restaurant business. The pillars of his holding company right now are Western Sizzlin, a fairly sleepy steak-and-buffet chain in the Southeast, and Steak N Shake, the retro burger-and-shakes concept he's aggressively trying to turn around, with noticeable success.

Right now, he's ostensibly not involved in the effort to force a change in Denny's board--and, by implication, its management. But one of the gambit's principals is Jonathan Dash, identified as a director of Western Sizzlin and an advisor to the chairman and CEO of Steak n Shake. That'd be Mr. Biglari, folks.

Dash is joined in the quest for board seats by David Makula, the founder of Oak Street Capital Management investment firm, and Patrick Arbor, a futures trading veteran. They and the parties they represent claim to hold a 6.5% stake in Denny's.

Biglari wasn't mentioned by name, just inference.

In announcing their board bids, the challengers commented, "The weaknesses of Denny's management have forced us to seek changes to the board in the interest of all shareholders. If the status quo is maintained, we are deeply concerned that the Company's future will mirror its past. " The announcement proceeds to spell out what should be done to shake the brand out of its purported inertia.

It's deja vu all over again for those who remember the statements Biglari issued before beginning his successful takeover of Steak n Shake. The precise words may be different, but the assertions are nearly identical.

Steak n Shake's parent company, by the way, is changing its name to Biglari Holdings Inc.

Stay tuned for this one.

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