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Investment Group Buys Parent of Souplantation

March 11, 2004|Melinda Fulmer | Times Staff Writer

San Diego-based Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp., operator of the Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes salad buffet restaurants, was sold Wednesday for $100 million to a local investment group.

Under terms of the deal, Garden Fresh shareholders received $16.35 a share from a group consisting of Centre Partners Management in Los Angeles, Fairmont Capital Inc. and Garden Fresh's existing management team. The restaurant company's shares rose 2 cents Wednesday to $16.26 on Nasdaq.

The partnership also refinanced about $37 million of Garden Fresh's debt.

In October, management had announced a sale of the company to Anaheim-based Fairmont. Since then, Fairmont and Garden Fresh's management team restructured the deal to bring in Centre as the largest investor. The deal was approved by shareholders Tuesday and closed Wednesday after the stock market closed.

Centre, which also owns the Johnny Rockets chain of Irvine, acquired the buffet operator because it considered the company "best in class," said Centre managing director Bob Bergmann.

Garden Fresh's profit had suffered in recent years, as the chain expanded too quickly. And its sales had fallen as it faced more competition from other casual dining concepts. But Chief Executive Michael Mack says same-store sales have been picking up again.

Garden Fresh operates 97 restaurants in 15 states.

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