Tuesday, August 10, 2010

'Sorry about the pennies.'

If recent restaurant valuations aren’t a fluke, gas stations will soon be giving away a casual-dining place with each fill-up, 200-seat grills will be awarded for good report cards, and the keys to sandwich joints will be used as stocking stuffers—“Collect all 20.”

Those situations are more plausible than the prices restaurants have recently been fetching. Consider, for instance, that Applebee’s parent agreed last month to sell 63 restaurants to a franchisee for $32 million, or about $508,000 per establishment. Sales would cover that figure in a matter of months. And these units were in Minnesota and Wisconsin, not Detroit, Port-au-Prince or Siberia.

Still, those dollars sound sweet compared with the outlay for the 10 remaining outlets of the bankrupt Ham’s Restaurant chain. A local concern bought the Carolinas-based brand and the restaurants for $360,000—on a per-unit basis, about what a family would pay for a decent sedan.

In a buyer’s market like the current one, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Max & Erma’s was set to be sold for $24.8 million. It’s unclear how many units of the venerable Midwestern grill-and-bar chain are still in operation, but official reports pegged the tally at the end of last year at 68 company stores and 28 franchises.

Sure, the chain is bankrupt. But that price prompted the current owner to join forces with another financier to tender a bid of $32 million. The court overseeing the chain has yet to say publicly if that offer will bump the prior bid, or if there are complications.

Maybe it’s just waiting for someone to return some bottles and pose a sweeter offer.

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