More than 700-unit Qdoba is being sold to Apollo Global Management, LLC, for about $305 million in cash, Jack in the Box announced Tuesday.

Qdoba is a subsidiary of Jack in the Box, which has owned the fast casual Mexican chain for 14 years, and has grown it by more than 600 units to the 47-state, $800 million system it is today. The transaction is expected to close by April 2018.

Jack in the Box said it expects to use the net cash proceeds to retire outstanding debt under its term loan and bolster shareholder value. Shares of Jack in the Box were halted on the stock market pending the news, but were up more than 3 percent in premarket trading Tuesday.

“For the past several months, we have worked closely with our financial advisers and evaluated various strategic alternatives with respect to Qdoba, including a sale or spin-off, as well as opportunities to refranchise company restaurants,” Lenny Comma, Jack in the Box chairman and CEO, said in a statement. “Following the completion of this robust process, our board of directors has determined that the sale of Qdoba is the best alternative for enhancing shareholder value and is consistent with the company’s desire to transition to a less capital-intensive business model.”

Rumors of this deal have circulated for several weeks. The New York Post reported in early November that Apollo was emerging as the top takeover target for Qdoba. Apollo is the same firm that made billions off CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, before dealing the brands to Roark Capital in 2013. It took Chuck E. Cheese private for $1.3 billion in 2014. Later in the month, Reuters said Apollo was nearing a $300 million deal for Qdoba.

When Jack in the Box acquired Qdoba in 2003, the chain had 85 locations in 16 states with $65 million in systemwide sales.

“Over the past 14 years, net units have grown at a compound annual growth rate of 16 percent,” Comma added. “Today, Qdoba is the second largest fast-casual Mexican food brand in the U.S., with more than 700 locations in 47 states, the District of Columbia and Canada, and system-wide sales of more than $820 million in fiscal 2017.”

Apollo senior partner Lance Milken commented on the deal in a statement.

“We are extremely excited to be acquiring Qdoba and look forward to working with the management team, employees and franchisees to continue building the Qdoba brand. We are firmly committed to Qdoba’s continued growth as a leading fast-casual restaurant operator,” he said.

Jack in the Box’s stock has lost 10 percent year to date through Monday. Qdoba’s struggles have been a recurrent issue in recent quarters. In August, after the company’s third-quarter earnings, where Qdoba’s same-store sales dropped 1.1 percent and transactions fell 2.8 percent, Jack in the Box said its evaluation of potential alternatives for Qdoba was forging ahead. Jack in the Box’s earnings per share were 73 cents in the fourth quarter, 18 percent below Wall Street estimates of 89 cents, according to FactSet. Revenue missed by 0.8 percent at $339 million versus $341 million. Qdoba’s transactions fell an alarming 6.4 percent in the fourth quarter. Its same-store sales dropped 2.1 percent systemwide and 4 percent at company restaurants.

Earlier, in June, Qdoba franchisees formed the Qdoba Franchisee Association to represent and guard the interests of the operators who run 340 of the system’s 717 total restaurants in the U.S. and Canada

Jack in the Box made the deal just months after activist investors Jana Partners LLC’s Barry Rosenstein and Jeff Smith’s Starboard Value LP bought stakes in the company. Jana Partners took a $1.3 million share stake in Jack in the Box. The same company was involved in Whole Foods, and helped push the sale to Amazon. Once that happened, Jana sold its 8.2 percent stake for $300 million.

Fast Casual, Finance, News, Qdoba