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Tavistock to buy Back Bay Restaurant Group

Boston-based operator selling 33 restaurants under six brands

The Back Bay Restaurant Group of Boston has agreed to sell all of its assets — including the Abe & Louie’s, Papa Razzi and Joe’s American Bar & Grill brands — to the West Coast-based Tavistock Restaurants LLC.

Though the proposed sale is not scheduled to close until late February, officials with Back Bay, which operates 33 restaurants under six brands in eight states, said they are hopeful it will be completed as planned.

Among suitors that have emerged for the multiconcept operator, Back Bay founder Charles Sarkis sees Tavistock as “most in line with the our company’s core values of providing quality food and excellent hospitality,” spokeswoman Amy Daniels said.

Jeff Carl, chief marketing officer for Emeryville, Calif.-based Tavistock Restaurants, said Wednesday the company could not comment on the proposed acquisition.

Tavistock has been growing in recent years. The operator of a number of concepts, such as Napa Valley Grille, ZED451, Blackhawk Grille and California Café, Tavistock acquired the Freebirds World Burrito chain in 2007 and the single-unit Sapporo Restaurant in Scottsdale, Ariz., in late 2009.

The company has been expanding the fast-casual Freebirds brand, in particular, which now has 44 locations in California, Texas and Oklahoma. Tavistock recently announced plans to open 16 Freebirds locations in California this year, including one scheduled to open next week in Los Angeles near the University of Southern California.

Last year, Tavistock made a $40 million bid for the Fuddruckers and Koo Koo Roo brands, but the deal fell through. Those brands were bought instead by Houston-based Luby’s Inc. for $61 million.

Daniels said the decision to sell Back Bay would allow Sarkis, the 70-year-old majority owner, to focus on his recovery after battling brain cancer for many years. Sarkis founded Back Bay Restaurants in 1963.

Back Bay brands include Abe & Louie’s, a high-end American steakhouse with locations in Boston and Boca Raton, Fla.; Atlantic Fish, a one-unit upscale seafood concept in Boston; and Charley’s, offering American casual fare with two units in Massachusetts.
In addition, the company also operates the fine-dining Coach Grill in Wayland, Mass.; the 15-unit casual-dining Joe’s American Bar & Grill chain; and the 12-unit Papa Razzi, an Italian trattoria concept.

The Boston Globe reported Wednesday that another buyer was interested in the Papa Razzi chain, but Daniels said the current purchase agreement with Tavistock includes that brand, as well as all other assets.

The Globe also reported sources saying the Tavistock offer was estimated at roughly $50 million, but Daniels said she could not confirm that number.

Despite the recession and its negative impact on the high-end and upscale casual segment, Back Bay restaurants fared relatively well, said Daniels.

Sales dipped slightly in 2009, but the group ended 2010 with an increase in sales overall, she said, though she could not give specifics for the privately held company.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].

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