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Morton’s may seek a buyer

Steakhouse brand the latest restaurant company to consider a sale

Morton’s Restaurant Group Inc., the parent company of 77 high-end steakhouses, said Wednesday it is exploring strategic options, including a possible sale.

The Chicago-based company, which has been public since February 2006, said the strategic review has the support of its two largest shareholders, Castle Harlan Inc. and Laurel Crown Partners LLC. Morton’s also said it has retained Jefferies & Company Inc. as financial adviser.

Morton’s saw a turnaround in sales last year as business travel and convention attendance — two major traffic drivers for the steakhouse brand — began recovering from the economic downturn of the past few years. Same-store sales rose 4.8 percent for fiscal 2010 and were up about 5 percent through late February, Morton’s said in a recent conference call.

EARLIER: Business travel boosts sales at Morton’s

A new restaurant that debuted in Dallas in February is the only planned restaurant opening for 2011, company officials said during Morton’s last earnings call. Two more units are scheduled to be retrofitted with the brand’s Bar 12-21 area, which has boosted average unit volumes between $200,000 and $300,000 over the past few years, executives said. They added that Morton’s would focus on growing its private-dining business in the coming year.

Morton’s is the latest public restaurant company this year to consider a sale of one or more of its brands. Yum! Brands Inc. said in January it was seeking a buyer for its Long John Silver’s and A&W All American Food chains. Later that month, Wendy’s/Arby’s Group said it was exploring options for Arby’s, including a possible sale.

Morton’s operates its Morton’s The Steakhouse brand in 64 cities across 26 states, Puerto Rico and six international locations: Hong Kong, Macau, Shanghai, Mexico City, Singapore and Toronto. The company also operates Trevi, an upscale Italian restaurant in Las Vegas.

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected].

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