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Church’s acquiring, converting 23 Mrs. Winner’s units in Tenn., Ky.

ATLANTA Church’s Chicken reportedly has converted the first two of 23 restaurants it acquired from the Mrs. Winner’s Chicken & Biscuits chain.

Church’s, whose namesake Atlanta-based chain has about 1,204 U.S. restaurants and another 450 overseas, has said it wants to complete the conversions of the Mrs. Winner’s restaurants before Nov. 1, according to comments by Church’s officials to The Tennessean and statements to Nation’s Restaurant News by unit-level Mrs. Winner’s employees.

Neither Church’s nor Mrs. Winner’s officials returned NRN phone calls seeking comment as of press time. The terms of the deal have not been publicized.

The first two Mrs. Winner’s-to-Church’s conversions were to have opened last week in Nashville, Tenn., and in Bowling Green, Ky., Church’s officials told The Tennessean. Some of the other Tennessee cities where conversions reportedly are taking place include Clarksville, Cookeville, Gallatin, Goodlettsville, Hermitage, Murfreesboro and Smyrna.

Counting the restaurants that are being acquired by Church’s, but not yet converted, Mrs. Winner’s has 106 restaurants in multiple Southeast states, including 92 owned by the franchisor, Mrs. Winner’s Chicken & Biscuit Corp., according to the chain’s website. Statements to the press by Church’s officials and comments from Mrs. Winner’s employees to NRN suggest that all 23 of the restaurants changing hands are owned by Mrs. Winner’s Chicken & Biscuits Corp. and will be operated by Church’s franchisor, Cajun Operating Co.

If the Mrs. Winner’s website shows up to date information, it appears that the deal with Church’s will leave the chain with about eight Tennessee restaurants and one unit in Kentucky.

Mrs. Winner’s is owned by Famous Recipes Company Operations Inc., which also franchises approximately 140 Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken restaurants in the Southeast. The company has headquarters in Destin, Fla., and Atlanta

The Church’s Chicken website shows that, counting the two Mrs. Winner’s locations converted, to date, it has 21 restaurants in Tennessee and 59 in Kentucky. For its most recent completed fiscal year ended in December 2008, Church’s U.S. operations ranked fourth among the eight chicken specialty chains tracked by the NRN Top 100. That ranking stemmed from Church’s U.S. systemwide sales of $868.2 million from 232 company-operated and 972 franchised locations.

Church’s was acquired earlier this month by private-equity firm Friedman Fleischer & Lowe LLC of San Francisco in a deal reported to be in the $300 million range. The chain previously was owned by Arcapita Inc. of Bahrain.

“Our team has always admired this region’s passion for chicken and community-minded culture, and that makes it an ideal area for Church’s Chicken. We’ve been on the lookout for an opportunity to expand boldly in the Greater Nashville area, and we’re delighted that the day is finally here,” Church’s chief operating officer Jim Parrish said in a statement to the Nashville Business Journal.

Church’s also reportedly told that paper that it has offered employment to all eligible Mrs. Winner’s employees.

Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected].

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