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Roark invests in Naf Naf Grill

Roark invests in Naf Naf Grill

Emerging Chicago-based chain specializes in “Americanized” Middle Eastern cuisine

Roark Capital Group has made an investment in Naf Naf Grill, a seven-year-old Chicago-based chain with 13 units that serves Middle Eastern cuisine in an Americanized, fast-casual format, the Atlanta-based private-equity firm said Tuesday.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The move marks an investment by the private-equity firm in an emerging chain, after years of buying established brands and turnaround concepts.

“We chose Roark as an investor for their deep experience with growing restaurant concepts, their operational focus, extensive resources and collaborative approach,” David Sloan, Naf Naf Grill founder and co-CEO, said in a statement. “Roark is our ideal partner, and together we will achieve Naf Naf Grill’s mission to become the leading authentic Middle Eastern fast-casual brand in the industry.”
Sloan and Sahar Sander, along with Elan Burger and Justin Halpenny, founded Naf Naf Grill in 2008. The chain’s menu includes slow-roasted steak or chicken shawarma, served in pita sandwiches, rice bowls or salad bowls. The company’s pitas are baked on site, and guests can customize their meals with salads or sauces.
Naf Naf Grill has 13 units, mostly in the Chicago area, with four locations under development, including outlets in Minneapolis and Madison, Wis.
Roark has invested in 18 restaurant operators and 45 multi-unit companies over the years, including Wingstop, which is scheduled to make its public debut this week. Roark is known for holding onto its investments and profiting from their growth, rather than selling them within a few years.
“Roark understood our culture and brand, and shares our passion for authentic, high-quality cuisine,” co-CEO Sander said in a statement. “They approach investments with a long-term perspective and have a distinguished track record of supporting management teams in fulfilling their visions. We are proud of what we have achieved to date, but we believe a partnership with Roark will help us reach new heights.”
As part of the deal, restaurant industry veterans Gary Beisler and George Condos will join Naf Naf Grill’s board. Beisler was CEO of Qdoba Mexican Grill from 1998 through 2013. Condos retired as president and COO of Arby’s in April.
Naf Naf Grill represents new territory for Roark. The firm, which completed a $2.5 billion fund in January, has been acquiring larger brands, including Arby’s and CKE Restaurants Inc. Naf Naf Grill is its first — but likely not last — emerging brand.
Roark founder Neal Aronson said in a statement that the group wants to invest in more emerging brands.
“Naf Naf has talented and passionate founders, a highly differentiated brand, and tremendous long-term growth potential,” Aronson said. “It is the first of a number of emerging brands we hope to invest in.”
Contact Jonathan Maze at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

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