Roark Capital Group announced on Tuesday that it would move forward with the acquisition of casual dining chain Buffalo Wild Wings, in a deal valuing the chain at $2.9bn (including debt) and which is expected to close in the first quarter of 2018.
The chicken wing restaurant is the latest in a series of struggling restaurant chains to go private in recent years, following in the footsteps of Ruby Tuesday, which was bought out by private equity firm NRD Capital in October. Roark’s growing portfolio currently includes quick service restaurant chain Arby’s and bakery chain Cinnabon, and the group also owns stakes in burger chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.
The US casual dining sector was especially hard-hit by the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, as dwindling consumer confidence forced most major chains to rely on incentives, deals and special offers to stem traffic losses. Over time, these limited-time promotions became too common among industry rivals, and no longer offered any competitive advantage. These challenges were further exacerbated by the rapid proliferation and growing success of good-value, higher quality fast casual concepts, such as Chipotle or Panera Bread.
Although market leaders, including DineEquity’s Applebee’s and Darden’s Olive Garden, underwent sweeping changes in a bid to shed their tired brand image over the last few years, this has not been enough to cull the loss of younger consumers to trendy and novel fast casual concepts. DineEquity announced in August that it would close between 105 and 135 Applebee’s locations, while Bloomin’ Brands has also announced that it will be closing 43 of its restaurants.
The acquisition of Buffalo Wild Wings demonstrates that the privatisation of the US casual dining sector shows no signs of abating, with investors already speculating on which chain private equity firms will target next.