Stanley Ma, the Canadian founder of MTY Food Group, was once was dubbed "The Food Court King" by a Quebec newspaper.
But with the Quebec-based franchisor's purchase of Minnetonka-based BBQ chain Famous Dave's parent company, BBQ Holdings, Inc., Ma and MTY's food court days are increasingly a bygone fling.
The Canadian company announced Tuesday that it will pay $17.25 a share — 40% above BBQ's price a day earlier. With BBQ's group of about 300 restaurants, MTY will now be the franchisor of about 7,000 restaurant sites, chiefly in the U.S. 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 by The Gazette, a Montreal newspaper. At the time, Ma was purchasing Ontario-based Country Style coffee shops, to go head-to-head with 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, he has expanded holdings to include an array of Asian-style restaurants populating strip malls.
But over the past decade — with high-profile purchases like a sizable stake in Papa Murphy's — Ma's company has shed the shopping mall motif for fast casual dining. In 2016, the company made its largest acquisition, spending $310 million on Kahala Brands, which includes names such as Cold Stone Creamery, Blimpie and Baja Fresh.
Today, MTY says 64% of its restaurants are street-front, with 14% in shopping malls and office tower food courts.
The purchase of BBQ Holdings also represents a return to growth for the company that — like many in the dining sector during the pandemic — faced economic headwinds.
While a company earnings report for 2021 noted 14,200 lost business days across stores last year, system sales were nevertheless up 5%, to $3.6 billion in revenue.
Last month, CEO Eric Lefebvre noted that restaurant closures last quarter hit their lowest level in four years, at 91. While the company only opened 47 restaurants, executives sounded an optimistic note in saying despite supply chain frustrations, there are "encouraging signs these matters are beginning to subside, particularly in the U.S."
News of Tuesday's purchase of BBQ Holdings sent MTY Group's stock above $60 a share on the Montreal exchange, an increase of nearly 4% on the day.