Wednesday, June 13, 2012

One-percenters put pizza on their plate

After the Porsche, the Learjet and museum-caliber art, what’s left for a real-life Horatio Alger to buy? The answer this week has been a restaurant chain.

Members of Donald Trump’s tax bracket have been scarfing up pizza concepts in particular the way you or I might buy a slice. Michael Greenberg, co-founder and president of sneaker giant Sketchers USA, was the most recent to indulge, plunking down an undisclosed amount of dough for an unrevealed stake in Fresh Brothers, an upstart pizza chain in Southern California.

Fresh Brothers has eight stores. Sketchers has 600 branches, each generating a high multiple of what a Fresh Brothers typically lands in sales ($1.5 million per unit, according to the pie maker). But a real-life rags-to-riches example has to keep his options open.

Look at Steve Wynn, who earmarked $4 billion last week to build what will be his second casino in Macao. Just to hedge his bets, the casino magnate dropped an additional $15 million for a 43% stake in the U.S. arm of Pie Face, an Australian pizza chain. Pie Face’s lone store is in New York City, where it’s served by a 6,000-square-foot commissary. Amazingly, more Big Apple units are planned.

Wynn and Greenberg aren’t the only one-percenters who can now eat free pizza everyday for lunch. Mark Cuban, the bad boy and internet mogul who owns the Dallas Mavericks, plowed some money into the Naked Pizza chain.

Outside the pizza segment, Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, is also the money behind the Johnny Rocket’s retro burger chain.

Gazillionaires have long been a part of the industry’s landscape. Church’s, for instance, was once owned by David Bamberger, whom you might’ve seen Sunday night on “60 Minutes,” during a segment on mega-large game farms in Texas. People who boast mega-large game farms seldom tend to order off the Dollar Menu.

So why are these guys with plum-grade charge cards suddenly buying their way into the pizza sector?

It’s more a matter of growth chains providing a good opportunity to diversify portfolios and provide a significant ROI for a relatively small investment.

The only thing that could be better would be adopting a foodservice journalist with a blogging habit.

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