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Darden to sell Smokey Bones for $80M

BOCA RATON Fla. Sun Capital Partners Inc. is adding a barbecue concept to its burgeoning restaurant portfolio by paying $80 million for the remains of Darden Restaurants Inc.’s Smokey Bones Barbeque & Grill chain.

If the deal closes as expected within the next 45 days, Sun Capital would own all or a piece of 34 restaurant concepts, operated or franchised by Boston Market Corp., Bruegger’s Enterprises, Fazoli’s Restaurants, Friendly Ice Cream Corp., Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp., Real Mex Restaurants, Restaurants Unlimited and Souper Salad. The company said its brands encompass 2,200 locations and generate $3.4 billion in sales.

The private-equity firm’s other investments include stakes in Chrysler Holdings, Dale and Thomas Popcorn, Hickory Farms and The Limited.

Sun Capital said it intends to expand Smokey Bones beyond its current 73 units. Anthony Polazzi, vice president of the holding company, said the concept has “the right ingredients for future growth: high average sales per restaurant, strong restaurant management teams, established operating systems and a unique barbecue flavor platform that is growing in popularity.”

The company indicated that Smokey Bones chief executive Ian Baines would be retained in that post. Baines said in a statement that a post-Darden Smokey Bones would try to “get guests fired up” by focusing more on beer and frozen drinks and “adding new flavors to our hickory-smoked barbecue.”

Sun Capital is buying the remaining Smokey Bones restaurants through a newly formed affiliate, Barbecue Integrated Inc. The deal had been expected since Darden announced Nov. 7 that it was narrowing the field of bidders to a Sun Capital affiliate in an attempt to forge a sales agreement within 30 days.

Earlier, Orlando, Fla.-based Darden had closed 54 Smokey Bones units.

Darden, which operates the Red Lobster and Olive Garden chains, recently completed a $1.4 billion acquisition of Rare Hospitality International Inc., parent of The Capital Grille and LongHorn steakhouse brands. Darden’s other casual-dining holdings are the Bahama Breeze and Seasons 52 chains.

“By reaching this agreement, we continue to make progress on our strategic alternatives to even more strongly position Darden for future growth as well as maximize value to our shareholders,” Clarence Otis, Darden chairman and chief executive, said in a statement.

“Darden will be involved during the transition period and support the Smokey Bones business and team every step of the way,” Drew Madsen, Darden president and chief operating officer, said in the same statement. “We are extremely appreciative of the contributions of our friends and colleagues at Smokey Bones, and we wish them well.”

Otis served for a time as president of Smokey Bones.

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