Monday, June 13, 2011

Talk about understatement

During a presentation at the National Restaurant Association’s big show in Chicago a few weeks ago, Roark Capital managing director Steve Romaniello mentioned that his private-equity firm was “under-leveraged.” That’s financial-speak for “we have resources available and intend to put the dollars to work by buying something.”

That, it turns out, was Steven Wright-gauge understatement. Roark announced this morning that it’s buying Corner Bakery and Il Fornaio in one deal and Arby’s in another. The amount paid for the former two wasn’t disclosed, but Arby’s seller Wendy’s/Arby’s said it agreed to take $430 million for the troubled fast-food chain.

The latter deal in particular makes a tremendous sense for Roark, whose main restaurant holding is Focus Brands, the franchisor of Moe’s Southwest Grill, Schlotzsky’s, Cinnabon, Carvel and Auntie Ann’s. Indeed, Roark had long been rumored to be the leading suitor for Arby’s.

It not only has the finances but also the in-house expertise to oversee the brand. Focus’ president is Russ Umphenour, who once headed Arby’s largest franchisee, RTM. At one point Arby’s home office had enlisted RTM to operate all of the franchisor’s stores as well as RTM’s own. Umphenour is clearly familiar with the sandwich concept’s roots and character.

A Focus spokeswoman said that Arby's won't be part of Focus. Two of Roark’s other restaurant holdings, McAlister’s and Wingstop, already operate as stand-alones separate from Focus.

Its other holdings include Fast Signs, which might want to strike a deal with Wendy's/Arby's, since the latter presumably will change its name. Then again, it's retaining 18.5% of Arby's.

With the deal, Roark will now own the franchise rights to nine restaurant concepts. It has limited rights to the Seattle’s Best brand.

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