Investment group to buy Romano's Macaroni Grill

by Eric Schroeder
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HOUSTON — Redrock Partners, L.L.C. has agreed to acquire Romano’s Macaroni Grill from Ignite Restaurant Group, Inc. for approximately $8 million in cash. The transaction comes less than two years after Ignite acquired Romano’s Macaroni Grill for approximately $55 million in an all-cash transaction from private equity firm Golden Gate Capital, management and investors.

“We continue to believe in the underlying strengths of the Macaroni Grill business,” said Ray Blanchette, chief executive officer of Ignite Restaurant Group, Inc. “Unfortunately, the brand was unable to deliver, in a timely manner, on the milestones we established. As a result, we decided that it was in the best interest of Ignite and our shareholders to sell the brand. The divestiture of Mac Grill will enable us to focus our resources on building momentum at Joe’s Crab Shack, while growing Brick House Tavern & Tap. We are very appreciative of the efforts of the entire Macaroni Grill team and believe that Redrock Partners will provide the leadership to ultimately achieve success in this brand.”

John Gilbert will continue as president and c.e.o. of Romano’s Macaroni Grill, while Dean Riesen will serve as chairman. Investor Dick Monfort also will join the leadership team.

“We are delighted to continue the work started by Ignite on the transformation of Mac Grill,” Mr. Gilbert said. Mr. Gilbert has a strong history of brand transformation, including the launch of Jack Daniel’s Grill at T.G.I. Friday’s and leading the team that developed the “America Runs on Dunkin’” campaign at Dunkin’ Donuts.

“Over the past nine months, Macaroni Grill has tested and launched Romano’s Kitchen Counter, which has proven to be a big hit with our customers,” he said. “Romano’s Kitchen Counter features a proportional service model where the restaurants are able to provide customers with a range of service from a fast-casual counter occasion to a full-serve special occasion.”

Mr. Riesen added, “We believe that Romano’s Kitchen Counter is the beginning of a new chapter in the Macaroni Grill story.  It was this growth opportunity, combined with the existing business foundation, that led me to put together the investment group to acquire Macaroni Grill.”

For his part, Mr. Riesen has had a lengthy financial and strategic career in the hospitality industry. He led Carlson Real Estate Co., was the chief financial officer of Carlson Holdings, Inc. and led the merger of Carlson’s U.K. travel interest into Thomas Cook Holdings, LTD (U.K.), then served on its board of directors. He also was on the board of Famous Dave’s of America and was chairman from 2011-14.

Mr. Monfort also has deep experience in the food service and hospitality industries, serving as president and c.e.o. of Monfort Meats, president of the protein divisions of ConAgra Foods, Inc. and owner of the Hyatt Regency-Palm Desert. He was on the board of Famous Dave’s of America, Inc., and is also the majority owner of the Colorado Rockies Major League Baseball team.

“We believe in the huge potential of this brand,” Mr. Gilbert said. “We are grateful for the initiatives launched under the stewardship of Ignite Restaurant Group and I know I speak for both Dean and Dick when I say that we plan on continuing, as owner/operators, those activities and building on the relationships with the employees, franchisees, landlords and suppliers that we will inherit.”

Romano’s Macaroni Grill is an Italian restaurant brand founded in 1988 by Phil Romano. Inspired by the Italian “country” cuisine served in Mr. Romano’s grandmother’s kitchen, Macaroni Grill has grown to over $300 million in U.S. sales and another $40 million through its franchise operations. Romano’s Macaroni Grill currently operates 146 locations across 33 states and franchises 25 locations in the United States and in 8 other countries. The restaurant chain also operates 136 Romano’s Kitchen Counter fast-casual service locations.
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