Stanley Ma, the Canadian founder of MTY Food Group, was once dubbed “The Food Court King” by a Quebec newspaper.
But with the Quebec franchisor’s purchase of the Famous Dave barbecue chain’s parent company, Minnetonka-based BBQ Holdings, Inc., Ma and MTY’s restaurant days are increasingly over.
The Canadian company announced on Tuesday that it would pay $17.25 per share, or 40% more than BBQ’s price the previous day. With the group of approximately 300 BBQ restaurants, MTY will now be the franchisor of approximately 7,000 restaurant sites, primarily in the United States and Canada.
In 2009, Ma — who immigrated to Canada with his parents from Hong Kong as a teenager — was proclaimed “King of Food Court” in a headline from The Gazette, a Montreal newspaper. At the time, Ma was buying Ontario-based Country Style coffees, to take on Starbucks and Tim Hortons.
Ma founded his first Montreal restaurant in 1979, a blend of Chinese and Polynesian cuisine called Le Paradis du Pacifique. Since then, it has expanded its holdings to include a range of Asian-style restaurants populating malls.
But over the past decade – with high-profile purchases like a major stake in Papa Murphy’s — Ma’s company ditched the mall motif for a quick, casual meal. In 2016, the company made its biggest acquisition, spending $310 million on Kahala Brands, which includes names like Cold Stone Creamery, Blimpie and Baja Fresh.
Today, MTY says 64% of its restaurants face the street, including 14% in malls and office tower food courts.
The purchase of BBQ Holdings also represents a return to growth for the company which, like many in the restaurant industry during the pandemic, has faced economic headwinds.
While a company earnings report for 2021 noted 14,200 business days lost at stores last year, system sales nonetheless rose 5% to $3.6 billion in revenue. .
Last month, CEO Eric Lefebvre noted restaurant closings last quarter hit a four-year low of 91. While the company opened just 47 restaurants, executives issued a memo upbeat saying that despite supply chain frustrations, there are “encouraging signs these issues are beginning to subside, particularly in the United States”
News of Tuesday’s purchase of BBQ Holdings sent MTY Group shares above $60 a share on the Montreal Exchange, up nearly 4% on the day.