Private equity group Golden Gate Capital announced Monday it reached an agreement to sell its stake in US restaurant giant Red Lobster to a consortium of investors led by Thai Union Group, two experienced Asian restaurant chain executives, and Red Lobster management.
The move marks a significant additional investment into Red Lobster by the Thai seafood giant, which first bought into the group with a $575 million (€481 million) investment in 2016, divided between a 25 percent direct stake worth $230 million and $345 million in preferred shares.
Earlier this month, Red Lobster hired credit adviser Guggenheim as it continued its struggle with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic hindering foodservice and the fallout from a Moody's credit downgrade earlier this year.
The new investor group, coming together under a new company named Seafood Alliance, is comprised of key shareholders Paul Kenny and Rit Thirakomen.
Kenny is the former CEO of Minor Food, one of Asia's largest casual dining and quick-service restaurant companies that operates more than 2,000 outlets in 27 countries under The Pizza Company, The Coffee Club, Riverside, Thai Express, Benihana, Bonchon, Swensen's, Sizzler, Dairy Queen and Burger King brands.
Thirakomen is the chairman, CEO, and controlling shareholder of MK Restaurant Group, a leading Thai restaurant chain.
"As an anchor investor in Red Lobster since 2016, we are excited to confirm our commitment to the business, which reflects our utmost confidence in management and the company's strategy of serving top quality seafood for a great value," said Thiraphong Chansiri, CEO of Thai Union.
"The Red Lobster brand is strong, with unmatched awareness and millions of loyal guests, and we believe it has tremendous long-term potential. We look forward to capitalizing on that solid base, as well as leveraging Seafood Alliance's restaurant expertise and international relationships, to continue to develop the brand domestically and internationally."
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Red Lobster has had to alter operations to comply with CDC guidelines and government mandates to remain operating. Red Lobster CEO Kim Lopdrup, who will remain in his role under the new ownership structure, called the pandemic "without question the most challenging time Red Lobster has faced in our 52 years of operation."
Today, 99 percent of company-operated Red Lobster locations are open for takeout and delivery, and 88 percent of dining rooms are open.
Red Lobster operates restaurants in nine countries outside North America, including China, Ecuador, Japan and Mexico, among others.
Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed, but following the deal, Thai Union will hold 49 percent of Red Lobster, while Seafood Alliance will hold 36 percent and management will hold 15 percent.