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Casual-dining deals faltering in tough economy

TAMPA Fla. Outback Steakhouse parent OSI Restaurant Partners' move to sell its six-unit Lee Roy Selmon's chain became the latest victim of the tightened credit markets, as the deal fell through because the buyers could not obtain financing.

According to a June filing with federal regulators, OSI revealed that the purchase agreement, announced last October and expected to close last December, had expired.

An investor group led by its NFL Hall of Famer namesake founder and Selmon’s president Peter Barli said last October that it was purchasing an 80-percent stake in Selmon’s with plans to grow the concept to 30 restaurants in five years.

The current status of the deal remains unclear, and OSI officials could not be reached for comment as of press time. The filing said the company also had shelved plans to sell the 37-unit Roy’s Restaurant chain because of poor market conditions. Still, OSI indicated in the filing that it would continue to evaluate exit strategies for its non-core chains, which include Selmon’s, Roy’s and the 38-unit Cheeseburger in Paradise chain.

The stalled deal joins others in the casual-dining sector that also have lost steam, including Brinker International Inc.'s unsuccessful efforts to sell Romano's Macaroni Grill or Sizzler's decision in June to hold off on a sale of its 300 domestic locations until market conditions improve. Last month, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro Inc. closed its lone Taneko Japanese Tavern about three months after disclosing that an attempt to sell a controlling interest in the intended chain prototype had fallen through.

Some transactions, however, have survived the tough economy, such as the $11.3 million deal that took Max & Erma's private. Pittsburgh restaurateur Gary Reinert Sr.'s G&R Acquisition Inc. bought the 106-unit chain earlier this summer.

Pending deals include Planet Hollywood International Inc.'s offer to buy Buca Inc., parent of the 88-unit Buca di Beppo chain, for 45 cents a share, or $9.7 million.

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