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Applebee's franchisee hires home-office vet to buy co. stores

HARRISON N.Y. Apple-Metro Inc., a 28-unit franchisee of Applebee's International, has hired a former high-ranking official of the franchisor to help in acquiring company-operated locations.

All 508 corporate Applebee's stores would be sold under the strategic plan that Glendale, Calif.-based IHOP Corp. has said it would pursue after buying the casual-dining brand for $2.1 billion. Applebee's, which currently owns or franchises 1,943 stores, has agreed to be purchased by the pancake chain, pending shareholder approval.

IHOP said it expects to sell 40 company restaurants per quarter to franchisees, either existing or new, beginning in 2008.

Zane Tankel, chairman and chief operating officer of the $130-million-a-year Apple Metro, said he hired Miguel Fernandez as executive vice president and chief operating officer to help the company “get in position for the possible acquisition of some company restaurants.”

Fernandez most recently served as senior vice president of company operations for Applebee’s, which is headquartered in Overland Park, Kan.

Tankel, whose Times Square store in Manhattan ranks as the highest-grossing outlet in the system, said he hoped to acquire Applebee’s locations in New England and the Mid-Atlantic regions. He declined to speculate on how many company stores he might acquire.

“There’s really no ceiling on this,” he said. “This is an opportunistic industry, but we’ve always believed in disciplined growth.”

Tankel said he recently completed a refinancing of Apple-Metro with Bank of America, which includes a $10 million line of credit to build new restaurants. “We’ve just begun talking about setting up a line of credit for the acquisition of new restaurants,” he said.

Fernandez joined Applebee's in 1995 as area director in California before becoming director of operations in 1996 for Pacific Gold, Inc., an Applebee's franchisee. He rejoined the company in 1998 as regional vice president of company operations.

In 2005, he was named senior vice president of company operations. Prior to joining Applebee's, he served as vice president of operations for Ninfa's Mexican Restaurants, regional director of operations for Acapulco Restaurants, and vice president of operations for Casa Vallarta Mexican Restaurants.

He is expected to join Apple-Metro in September, at which time he will report directly to Tankel.

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