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Crispers chain sold to investment firm

Publix sells 36-unit fast-casual chain to Boyne Capital Partners affiliate

Publix Super Markets Inc. has sold the 36-unit Crispers sandwich, salad and soup chain to a Miami-based private investment firm.

Terms of the deal between Publix and Health Food Concepts LLC, an affiliate of Boyne Capital Partners, were not disclosed. The sale is expected to close in six to eight weeks, Maria Brous, a spokeswoman for Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix, said Wednesday.

Crispers is the first investment for Healthy Food Concepts, which will run Crispers as a stand-alone business and retain its management and associates, Brous said, noting she was also speaking on behalf of the buyer. Boyne Capital Partners did not return a phone call by deadline.

Brous said the divestment of Crispers would help Publix focus on its more than 1,000 grocery stores, which are located throughout Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee.

“We’re focusing on our core business,” she said. “Running a restaurant chain and running a grocery chain are two different things.”

Bill Whitaker created the Crispers concept in 1989, and the brand now has units in central and north Florida, with a few in South Florida. Publix made equity investments in the concept in 2002 and 2004 before purchasing it in 2007.

Whitaker, who left Crispers in 2003, described Publix as a “brilliant supermarket,” but said the restaurant concept lost some of its culture and focus after the grocery company hired outside restaurant managers to run the chain.

“Any concept loses some of its culture when you bring in outside people to run it. They lose focus on what created the concept,” Whitaker said. “Not that Publix did anything wrong, but there are few people like us. Crispers was a unique concept that nobody was doing at the time and Publix was trying to be all things to all people.

“And when you do that you lose the focus on what made it great in the first place,” he added. “It might look simple from the outside, but it’s a lot more complicated when you get involved in owning and running it.”

Whitaker has since opened a bistro concept restaurant called Press 101 in the Orlando, Fla., area and plans to open a second Press 101 in Lakeland.

Contact Alan Snel at [email protected].

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