Private equity investment in DFW restaurants

Investors going all in with local restaurants

Even the best ingredients won’t help you in the pizza business if you don’t have the right recipe for the restaurant. 

Darin Harris, the CEO of Cicis, says in the restaurant industry, you have to be willing to change.

“We were getting dated and tired and it was time for us to innovate and grow again," he says.

Several years ago, Coppell based Cicis, formerly Cici’s Pizza, began an ambitious plan to tweak its name, its logo, its look, and its offerings in an effort to maintain its slice of the pie.

“We have always been about pizza.  But we wanted to emphasize the things on our menu beyond pizza: Soups, salads, bread sticks, and desserts," Harris says.

To make it happen, Cicis tapped into a new private equity partner.  In the restaurant industry, private equity investors bring a lot of money and business expertise to the table.  Compared to other investment options like medical or tech ventures.

“Restaurants are usually a good bet," says Dallas Business Journal Reporter Korri Kezar. 

She found that deep-pocketed investment firms have placed bets on quite a few North Texas chains.  She notes examples like Dallas-based Wingstop. 

Kezar says under private equity ownership, the chicken wing outfit was able to quickly expand its number of locations.

“You saw it go from 440 to 712 internationally," she says.

In that case, big became bigger.  But more bite-sized ideas are getting eaten up as well. Investors went in big in September with Dallas’ Velvet Taco, a relatively small concept with huge potential.

Kezar explains investor thinking in a case like that, “Get in at the startup phase and expand and have this explosive growth and say hey I was there when I created the next Chipotle or Panera or the next big fast casual brand.  They want to have the next big aha!”

She says that is likely to grow the local restaurant scene, which has exploded to around 14 thousand eateries feeding a pretty diverse crowd.

“As one of my analysts said, 'DFW is the ultimate test market now. If you want to make it as a restaurant chain, you come to Dallas.  And if you can make it in Dallas you can make it anywhere.'”

And for those who make it convincingly, there can be quite an appetite among investors willing to take them to the next level. 

“Our goal is always to grow,"  says Harris. 

With private equity help, Cicis, which began as a single Plano restaurant in 1985, has grown to 440 stores with plans to expand to 600 locations in the next five years.

Click here to read the Dallas Business Journal article about private equity investment in DFW restaurants.

Copyright 2016 WFAA


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