Former professional basketball player Junior Bridgeman has become the first existing Wendy’s franchisee to acquire company-owned locations in the quick-service brand’s recently announced 425-unit refranchising effort.

Bridgeman, one of the restaurant industry’s most established athlete franchisees, bought 30 Wendy’s units in the St. Louis market through BB St. Louis Inc., a partnership between Bridgeman and Chauncey Billups, a point guard for the Detroit Pistons and a 16-year veteran of the National Basketball Association. The deal marks Billups’ first foray into the restaurant industry.

The acquisition increases the total number of Wendy’s restaurants that Bridgeman operates to 196. He also operates more than 100 locations of Chili’s and several dozen Fazoli’s units. The latest deal with Wendy’s includes 29 existing units and one location under construction.

Dublin, Ohio-based The Wendy’s Co. disclosed that the acquisition includes a development plan for more new locations in the market and a requirement to remodel some of the units in Wendy’s new “Image Activation” prototype design.

“We are expanding our relationship with successful, well-capitalized franchisees with strong operating credentials and a commitment to our Image Activation reimaging program,” chief executive Emil Brolick said in a statement. “We have enjoyed a longstanding relationship with Junior Bridgeman, and he is an exceptional person, an excellent operator and very committed to building a people culture. In addition, we are eager to welcome Chauncey to the Wendy’s family.”

Bridgeman said in a statement that he and Billups were excited about their new partnership. “We have a tremendous opportunity in the St. Louis market,” he said, “and our goal is to build upon the positive momentum and growth that the Wendy’s brand is currently experiencing.”

Wendy’s previously tipped off its refranchising effort with a $9.3 million sale of 24 locations in the Kansas City market to NPC International Inc., the nation’s largest franchisee of Pizza Hut. The acquisition closed in mid-July.

NPC chief financial officer Troy Cook told analysts that the company plans to remodel at least half of the newly acquired restaurants. Also, he disclosed that 14 of the restaurants were “fee-owned,” meaning Wendy’s leases or sub-leases the building and the real estate to the franchisee.

While he did not divulge specifics as to how many Wendy’s locations in the BB St. Louis acquisition are fee-owned, Wendy’s spokesman Bob Bertini said in an email to Nation’s Restaurant News that it will be taking that approach “where feasible with the sale of the 425 company-owned restaurants, primarily in the western portion of the U.S.”

The Wendy’s Co. previously stated that it would target the end of the second quarter of 2014 to complete its refranchising program, taking its ownership stake of its domestic system down to 15 percent, from 22 percent currently. The brand operates or franchises more than 6,500 Wendy’s locations in the United States and 27 foreign markets.

Other recent, major franchising deals include New Jersey-based Doherty Enterprises’ July 31 acquisition of 38 Applebee’s restaurants in Florida and Georgia from Georgia-based franchisee Gator Apple LLC. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, but Doherty Enterprises said in a statement that the purchased restaurants would undergo “extensive facility renovations and remodeling.” Doherty Enterprises operates 140 restaurants under seven concepts, including 100 Applebee’s locations.

Contact Mark Brandau at mark.brandau@penton.com.
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