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    The 100 Biggest Stories of 2011

  • The top headlines, trends, and buy-outs in the restaurant industry this year.

    10. Top Acquisitions

    The top U.S. limited-service restaurant transaction was Golden Gate Capital’s $454.9 million purchase of California Pizza Kitchen. After that was the Arby’s transaction, and then the sale of Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits by Falfurrias Capital Partners to global private-equity firm Advent International for an estimated $400 million.

    Other deals include the acquisition of Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina by a company led by former McAlister’s Deli exec Phil Friedman, and Groupe Le Duff’s $91 million purchase of Bruegger’s Enterprises Inc.

    11. Papa John’s Bets On the Super Bowl

    No Super Bowl has ever gone into overtime.

    And no pizza company has ever called such a bold play as when Papa John’s, the Official Pizza of the NFL and Super Bowl XLV, announced it would give a free large pizza to everyone in America if Super Bowl XLV broke the no-overtime streak.

    “There’s no better event or day to serve as a platform for our largest offer ever,” said Andrew Varga, Papa John’s CMO, at the time of the announcement. Varga and other Papa John’s execs breathed a sigh of relief when Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers took a knee with 49 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to win without a second of overtime. Perhaps double or nothing next year?

    12. Little Brand Hosts Big Party

    On May 1, East Coast salad concept SweetGreen invited friends, diners, and VIPs to its SweetLife Festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Maryland. As the marquee sponsor for the festival, SweetGreen was credited with bringing acts such as Girl Talk, Lupe Fiasco, Ra Ra Riot, and Cold War Kids to the event, enforcing its “welcome to the sweet life” corporate philosophy.

    13. Dunkin’ Goes Public (Again)

    Dunkin’ Brands became the first limited-service-restaurant company in about four years to go public. The Canton, Massachusetts–based business raised $422.75 million in July after pricing its initial public stock offering at $19 per share, slightly above expectations.

    Dunkin’ is the parent of Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins.

    The price put Dunkin’s value at upward of $2.3 billion, when all of the company’s outstanding stock is considered. That’s a bit less than the $2.45 billion that Bain Capital, Carlyle Group, and Thomas H. Lee Partners paid for the enterprise six years ago. The trio of investors still control 78 percent of Dunkin’s stock.

    “It’s an exciting time for Dunkin’ Brands as a new public company,” company CEO Nigel Travis said after the offering was completed.

    14. Chipotle Debuts ShopHouse

    From the owners of Chipotle this September came ShopHouse in Washington, D.C., serving an Asian version of fast food.

    As you’d expect from the Chipotle folks, the food is fresh, sourced sustainably, and raised without hormones or antibiotics. The dishes are also simple: bowls or banh mi sandwiches.

    “We have long believed that Chipotle’s success wasn’t necessarily tied to serving tacos and burritos, but rather is rooted in our making great tasting food … and serving our customers in a format that is personal and that lets them choose exactly what they eat,” says spokesman Chris Arnold.

    15. MyPlate Stacks Up

    MyPlate couldn’t have come at a better time for quick-service operators who are increasing healthy choices on their menus, especially for children. The new food icon introduced this year by the USDA is designed to encourage Americans to eat healthier. The colorful plate is a layout of appropriate amounts of vegetables, fruits, lean meats, whole grains, and dairy in a meal.

    Applauded by the National Restaurant Association and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, MyPlate is easily displayed and referenced, making it useful in the industry’s continuing advances toward more healthful menus.

    16. Burger King Gets Downgraded

    Among the bigger financial deals was Burger King’s $1.85 billion term loan to finance its buyout, although ratings agency Fitch later downgraded the burger company’s long-term debt to B-minus from B with a negative outlook.

    Fitch also assigned a BBB rating to YUM! Brands’ proposed 10-year $350 million senior unsecured notes.

    17. Quiznos Grows Globally

    Quiznos is struggling domestically (the chain is down to about 3,500 stores, compared with almost 5,000 before the recession hit), but it is moving into new territory.

    This August, the Denver-based chain opened a flagship store in Kuwait and its largest international location in southern India. Further plans include 200 locations in northern Brazil, including seven stores before the end of the year.