WSJ: Fund presses on $325M buy of Norwalk eatery
Months after Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group spent $325 million to acquire Barteca, a hedge fund is pressing Del Frisco’s to sell off the Norwalk-based owner of the Barcelona Wine Bar and Bartaco chains, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Newport Beach, Calif.-based Engaged Capital has built up a nearly 10 percent stake in Irving, Texas-based Del Frisco’s, whose shares are down by more than half this year giving it a market capitalization of about $225 million. On Wednesday, Del Frisco’s announced a “poison pill” plan designed to forestall any investor purchasing shares that would push their total holdings to more than 10 percent of all shares outstanding.
In August, Del Frisco’s sold stock worth $98 million and found a buyer for its Sullivan’s Steakhouse chain in a $32 million deal, using the proceeds from both actions to pay off debt. Earlier this year, the company closed a Del Frisco’s Grille in downtown Stamford after a three-year run, with Blackstones Steakhouse taking over the space.
Barcelona and Bartaco contributed $40 million in revenue to Del Frisco’s in its fiscal third quarter ending in September, and earnings of $10.2 million before taxes and other non-operating expenses. Del Frisco’s recorded a $67.1 million loss for the quarter on revenue of $105 million.
Del Frisco’s has been expanding both Barcelona and Bartaco with three new restaurants in North Carolina, as well as locations in Massachusetts, Texas and Wisconsin, while closing Bartaco locations in Tennessee and Alabama.
“We realize that there is a great deal of skepticism around the new (Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group) given the risk of integration (and) our elevated debt levels,” said CEO Norman Abdallah, speaking in mid-November on a conference call with investors. “It is also worth noting, how our brands performed during the last major recession in 2008 through 2009. ... Barcelona had positive same-store sales despite the recession, as the brand benefited from guests trading down from higher-priced concepts; we would anticipate a similar effect at Bartaco with its lower-price menu items.”
Abdallah said staff of Barteca’s have moved to Irving, while continuing to operate the Barcelona and Bartaco brands autonomously. He added Barteca co-founder Sasa Mahr-Batuz remains an adviser, with Mahr-Batuz launching Barcelona in 1996 with Andy Pforzheimer, who today is on the faculty of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.
On the same call, Del Frisco’s finance chief said that business plunged a year ago at a Bartaco restaurant in Port Chester, N.Y., after a brief closure following an employee being diagnosed with hepatitis A. The Port Chester restaurant’s revenues remain down 30 percent today on a year-over-year basis, according to Neil Thomson, chief financial officer of Del Frisco’s, but still remains “above average” in Abdallah’s words for both sales and profits.
Bartaco’s Northeast locations were also impacted by rainfall this year that limited use of its outdoor patios, Abdallah added.
Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman