Private-equity firm Gridiron Capital LLC has acquired a majority stake in the Asian fast-casual chain Tokyo Joe’s in a partnership with former Quiznos chief executive Greg MacDonald.

Terms of the deal, which closed April 16 and was announced last week, were not disclosed. MacDonald was named chief executive of the Denver-based chain, which operates 25 units and offers signature and customizable rice and noodle bowls, as well as sushi rolls.

Larry Leith, who founded Tokyo Joe’s in 1996, will become chief innovation officer, leading menu development and restaurant design.

“Greg’s in charge of making Tokyo Joe’s bigger. I’m in charge of making it better,” Leith said.

MacDonald, who stepped down as president and chief executive of Quiznos in 2012 after a restructuring deal brought in new ownership for Quiznos, said the goal is to expand Tokyo Joe’s nationwide.

“We loved the fact that it’s a proven concept in one of the toughest restaurant markets in the country,” MacDonald said.

“I also loved the healthy aspect,” he said, noting that Tokyo Joe’s uses organic ingredients where possible, and dishes are grilled or steamed rather than fried. “We’ll try to do a better job of promoting how healthful it is.”

MacDonald said leaders plan to grow the brand with both company-owned and franchise locations. All restaurants are currently company owned and located around Denver.

The company plans to open two to three more locations in the Denver area this year. Next year, it plans to move into new markets and later launch franchising.

Leith said franchising would allow the company to open restaurants faster.  “There has been unbelievable demand from other markets for what we do,” he said.

Tokyo Joe’s is also known for its restaurant design, which leans more toward casual dining, falling into a more “premium fast-casual” segment, Leith said.

MacDonald declined to characterize sales, but said they were “definitely in the top percentile.”

Tokyo Joe’s units are typically approximately 2,500 square feet. The average check is about $10.

The deal is New Canaan, Conn.-based Gridiron’s first investment in the restaurant industry.

“Gridiron’s partnership with Tokyo Joe’s will enable the company to accelerate growth and to expand into new geographies,”  Gridiron managing director Kevin Jackson said in a statement. “Larry and his team have built a tremendous concept over 17 years, and we are excited to partner with them to build on their legacy of success.”

Contact Lisa Jennings at lisa.jennings@penton.com.
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout