Mandarin Express parent said to be acquiring Leeann Chin

BLOOMINGTON Minn. Leeann Chin, the Minneapolis-area chain that introduced Twin Cities residents to Chinese food when founder Chin opened her first restaurant in 1980, will be sold to Mandarin Holdings, Los Angeles-based operator of the Mandarin Express quick-service chain, according to a published report that did not disclose terms.

Chin, who is retired, reportedly owns 9.6 percent of the company's common stock, while two investment firms, Mellon Investments of Pittsburgh and BNP Paribas of France, own 83 percent of preferred stock. Management holds the remaining equity.

The chain consists of 22 restaurants plus 10 kiosks inside Rainbow Foods upscale grocery stores. The restaurant concepts are the quick-service Leeann Chin and fast-casual Chin’s Asia Fresh. News reports did not disclose whether current management, headed by chief executive Stephen Finn, would stay on.

Mandarin Express operates quick-service Chinese restaurants in 10 states. The deal is expected to close in late February.

Chin bought back her namesake chain in 1988 from General Mills after the packaged-goods conglomerate failed to expand the system, as planned at the time it purchased he brand from Chin in 1985. Chin, a former cooking teacher, has published several cookbooks.