Benihana skewers a company buyer

Benihana skewers a company buyer

Steve’s breakdown: Two things: Though this latest commercial does tug on the heartstrings of the pass, it’s not going to sell reservations. And two: Having work at the agency who had the Benihana business from the 1980s to 2007, I always thought the company should be private because it was such a family affair. Couple these two and you might be seeing an agency review by year’s end.

MIAMI, FL: Benihana Inc., the Miami-based operator of about 95 Japanese-themed restaurants in the U.S., agreed to be acquired by Angelo, Gordon & Co.’s Private Equity Group for about $296 million in cash and be taken private.

The agreement isn’t subject to financing conditions, the companies said today in a statement. The offer of about $16.30 a share is 23 percent higher than Benihana’s closing price yesterday.

The deal brings the value of private-equity transactions in the restaurant industry in the past two years to $11.7 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Restaurant chains have been a favorite target of private investors because their cash- flow makes financing deals easy and brands can benefit from cost cutting or unit expansion.

Benihana and its RA Sushi chain have “significant expansion potential,” Anton Brenner, an analyst at Roth Capital Partners, said in an interview. “There’s still some growth and margin improvement at RA and Benihana and I think they can grow it pretty nicely.”

Brenner, who is based in Newport Beach, California, advises buying the shares.

The restaurant chain, known for shrimp-flipping chefs who cook at customers’ tables, said in March that it would work with Jefferies & Co. to explore a possible sale for the second time in two years. Benihana also owns the RA Sushi and Haru eatery chains.

Chief Executive Officer Richard Stockinger has said he is looking for ways to unlock value in the company’s real estate, which was valued at about $44.4 million in 2009, according to a company filing. Benihana was considering “opportunistic sale leaseback transactions and pursuing brand licensing,” he said during a conference call last year.

Revenue at Benihana rose 4.5 percent to $327.6 million in the fiscal year ended March 27, 2011. Net income was $1.34 million, compared with a net loss of $8.94 million the year before.

Earlier this month, rival P.F. Chang’s China Bistro Inc. agreed to be taken private by Centerbridge Partners LP in a deal valuing the company at $1.1 billion. The Scottsdale, Arizona- based restaurant chain has about 400 locations under the P.F. Chang’s and Pei Wei brands.


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