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FAT Brands To Acquire Johnny Rockets for $25 million

The merger will bring the total number of FAT Brands franchised and company-owned restaurants to 700 internationally.

FAT Brands, the global franchising company behind Fatburger, Hurricane Grill & Wings and Ponderosa and Bonanza Steakhouses, announced on Thursday its intention to acquire Los Angeles-based burger chain Johnny Rockets from private equity firm Sun Capital Partners Inc. for approximately $25 million. The deal, which is expected to finalize in September, will bring the total number of FAT Brands franchised and company-owned restaurants to 700 internationally, with annual sales of $700 million.

“FAT Brands is delighted to carry the torch from the affiliate of Sun Capital Partners, Inc., a global private equity leader with deep investment and operational experience, and run hard,” FAT Brands president and CEO Andy Wiederhorn said in a statement. “Similar to Fatburger, Johnny Rockets got its start in Los Angeles, and we couldn’t be more pleased to add another true staple in our home city to our portfolio. This acquisition is a transformative event for FAT Brands in terms of scale and brand awareness. We see a lot of synergy with Johnny Rockets and our current restaurant concepts and we are eager to take the brand to new heights.”

FAT Brands has been on an expansion streak since it went public in 2017, acquiring Elevation Burger for $10 million in January 2019 and announcing last summer that it would grow its footprint by operating ghost kitchens out of existing restaurants to give franchisees access to new revenue streams. 

Wiederhorn told The Wall Street Journal that FAT Brands approached Johnny Rockets when Sun Capital Partners began a sales process for the brand in January but that negotiations halted during the start of the pandemic before picking up again in the summer. Johnny Rockets’ U.S. sales fell 3.7% in 2019, and its unit count shrunk 3.8% to 175 locations at the end of last year. In January, the company announced a strategic approach to growth aimed around casinos, theme parks, cruise ships and airports. Although these nontraditional restaurant venues brought in strong sales prior to the pandemic — average unit volume at casino locations was $2.4 million, and one location exceeded $5.7 million — social distancing measures and dining room closures are turning these locations into liabilities.

What makes this week’s deal particularly noteworthy is that FAT Brands chose to invest in the casual dining chain despite the full-service segment's significant decline amid COVID-19 conditions. Wiederhorn is confident that the category's performance will turn around, telling The Wall Street Journal that FAT Brands' sales have already improved in some markets thanks to delivery and outdoor dining. In addition, Weiderhorn says acquisitions of regional restaurants can bolster the company's market reach and help the chain land good deals for supplies and marketing.