Restaurant Franchising Turns to Sale-Leaseback for Capital in Tough Market

The sale-leaseback deal was mostly invented to provide an alternate source of capital for a company that dislikes too much debt, or simply wants more capital than its bank cares to lend it. These days, it seems, that alternative can be all the more useful for corporate finance, now that banks in general are hesitating to lend, regardless of the creditworthiness of the borrower. One real estate owner tapping into the sale-leaseback source in a big way recently is DineEquity Inc., franchisor and operator of Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar and IHOP Restaurants, which just inked deals with an assortment of buyers to sell 66 Applebee’s company-owned restaurants in Houston, Dallas, Texas and Albuquerque. These deals come immediate after the company completed the sale of 15 company-operated Applebee’s restaurants in Nevada, and earlier this year, DineEquity sold 29 company-operated restaurants in southern California and Delaware. All together, these transactions represent 110 locations, and the company is looking to sell more. DineEquity expects to generate about $63 million in after-tax cash proceeds from the sale of the 110 Applebee’s restaurants. An additional benefit to the company is that the locations are mostly Applebee’s lowest profit-performing restaurants, the sale of which will remove their negative impact from DineEquity’s P&L statement. “We’re actively negotiating with several interested buyers for each of Applebee’s remaining company-operated restaurants available for sale,” said Julia A. Stewart, DineEquity’s chairman and chief executive officer. “While the chill in the credit markets presents a challenge to our refranchising efforts, we believe it isn’t insurmountable.” But where to find the buyers? DineEquity, for one, is fortunate in that a number of its new franchisees are interested in becoming owners. “The sale transfers the stewardship of these Applebee’s to the hands of experienced restaurant operators new to the system, who are capable of delivering a higher level of performance in these markets,” said Stewart. “They believe in and are committed to Applebee’s brand revitalization efforts under way.” For example, in the sale of 22 company-operated restaurants in Houston, Wellington D. Yu, a franchisee new to the Applebee’s system, is the buyer. Yu is the president of the Peterson Group Inc., a real estate development and management firm, but has been involved in the restaurant industry for more than 25 years as a franchisee of various brands, including McDonald’s. In Dallas, the company is selling 37 company-operated restaurants to Sunil Dharod, another franchisee new to the Applebee’s system. Dharod is president and CEO of Synned Inc., and currently operates 18 Burger Kings and 11 Blockbuster stores in the Dallas area, and owns other commercial real estate properties.The buyer in the Albuquerque deal (seven properties) is Andy Patel, yet another franchisee new to the Applebee’s system. Patel is president of Anand Enterprises Inc. and Mina Inc., and has been involved in restaurant and hotel businesses in Florida for more than 19 years. He currently operates 18 IHOP restaurants in Florida as a sub-licensee of Sunshine Restaurant Partners, in addition to operating franchise hotel brands Travelodge and Day Inns.