Restaurant Group’s Strategy: Buy Small Chains

May 1, 2013

DicksWings1 304JACKSONVILLE — The parent company of Dick’s Wings & Grill wants to grow by expanding not only that brand, but other regional brands it hopes to acquire around the U.S.

Rick Akam, who became chief operating officer of Dick’s Wings Jan. 22, said the goal is to strengthen the Dick’s Wings brand as the foundation of American Restaurant Concepts Inc. Another goal is to add other brands to diversify the operating company while leveraging top-level management and the possibility of integrated menus, and products to make the new regional brands stronger.

“The opportunities appear to be just like Dick’s,” Akam said. “They’re a good, strong regional brand. The goal wouldn’t be to necessarily make them all a national brand. It would be to make them all regional brands in that region of the U.S.”

The idea behind acquiring small, regional restaurant chains is to keep the popular local flavor in the brands acquired.

The new strategy is the latest change for the company. Based in Jacksonville, American Restaurant Concepts operates 16 full-service Dick’s Wings and two Dick’s Wings Express restaurants, all of which are franchised. In 2010, the company (OTCBB: ANPZ) started trading publicly and in November 2012, money manager and private investor William D. Leopold II became the majority shareholder by acquiring 42 percent of the stock.

Leopold has an investment relationship with Seenu Kasturi, the CEO of a Louisiana-based development and investment firm called Blue Victory Holdings Inc. As part of that relationship, Blue Victory Holdings is now an affiliate company of American Restaurant Concepts, providing financing, management expertise and other resources. Blue Victory is also the franchisee for a portfolio of fast food restaurants in the Carolinas that include 20 Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants, three KFC/Taco Bells and one KFC/Long John Silver’s.

Akam, who has spent his 35-year career in the restaurant industry with executive roles at Hooters of America LLC, Twin Peaks Restaurants and First Watch Restaurants Inc., said the first step in expanding American Restaurant Concepts is to standardize the flagship brand’s current restaurants and any future restaurants from the inside out. He expects to do that over the next six to 12 months.

Much like the other regional brands the company hopes to acquire, Akam said the company will grow Dick’s Wings regionally at first in the Southeast. He’s not focused on a certain number of restaurants, but on the areas where restaurants will be located.

“Dick’s is a great neighborhood concept and fits into a lot of different neighborhoods,” Akam said. “We’re trying really to evaluate the ideal demographics, the ideal location that it can go into.”

Ketan Pandya, a spokesman for Blue Victory Holdings, said that although initially Dick’s Wings will expand regionally, the company is already fielding interest from international markets as far away as Dubai and China.

Darren Tristano, an executive vice president at the food industry consulting firm Technomic Inc., said that, in general, buying regional restaurant chains could be a good opportunity for American Restaurant Concepts because it opens doors for franchising opportunities.

It also poses risks and challenges, because it means operating outside the segment the company is most familiar with and having to learn about the consumer base in each new region where it acquires a brand.

Akam said his biggest challenge will be to find the best franchisees.

“It’s very similar to some of my experiences with some companies of the same size that have become very successful,” Akam said. “Some of the real brand attributes are really good customer loyalty, very passionate owners and good food. All those similarities are there in Dick’s.”