Growth | December 2013 | By Korsha Wilson

Changing Hands, Keeping Fans

How Lion’s Choice kept its loyal customers during a change in ownership.

The quick service restaurant Lion's Choice will expand under new owners.
(L to R) Bob Millstone, Mark Disper, and Fred Flegel headed a group that purchased the Lion’s Choice brand. Lion’s Choice
Email this story Email this story
Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Read More About

When Marvin Gibbs decided that he wanted to sell the quick-service chain he started 45 years ago, he knew he had to sell it to someone that understood the business. His St. Louis–based company, Lion’s Choice, a roast beef chain with 15 company stores and eight franchise locations, has a consumer following that loves the brand as it is.

He needed a buyer and a new president that would preserve the company’s core values while moving it forward.

Mark Disper fit the bill. Disper, who purchased parent company Red Lion Beef Corporation’s assets through his investment fund Black Rock Holdings LLC, as well as through Millstone Capital Advisors, opened the first franchise location and has worked with the company since 2001. He’ll serve as CEO and president of Lion’s Choice’s new parent company, LC Corporate LLC.

Gibbs picked Disper, he says, because he sees “a passion for the business” in him.

“It’s nice to be able to pass it on to someone you have confidence in,” Gibbs says.

Quick serves that change ownership need to be careful not to alienate their core customers, says Dennis Lombardi, branding expert with WD Partners.

“New owners should be sure not to break anything that isn’t broken. They should ask, ‘Where can the brand be enhanced and how?’” Lombardi says. A new owner that changes the brand so much that the core consumer base doesn’t recognize it anymore can lead to a loss of revenue, he says.

Disper does have some changes planned for the future, but he wants to keep most of Lion’s Choice the same.

“We are planning redesigns of stores and continuing to expand in the Midwest,” he says. But don’t expect the food to taste any different, he adds.

“The main things that we focus on are quality, nutrition, and price,” Disper says. “It’s important to keep consistency the same. Every sandwich, every customer, every day.”