Private equity firm Falconhead Capital acquired a controlling stake in Rita's Water Ice Franchise Company, and the interim CEO says the firm plans to grow Rita’s into a major East Coast brand.

Thomas Christopoul, an operating partner at Falconhead and now chairman and interim CEO of Rita's, says Rita’s product and following helps it stand out among dessert competitors.

“The amount of passion and commitment that the company’s consumers have to its core product is really overwhelming,” he says, adding that the brand’s Facebook page, which has nearly 600,000 fans, is a telling sign of its popularity.

Christopoul says Rita’s, which is based in Trevose, Pennsylvania, is a strong regional brand but that Falconhead plans to accelerate unit growth up and down the I-95 corridor.

“What we saw in Rita’s was the opportunity to bring that next level of growth going beyond … its very strong regional presence into what we would call a super regional presence,” he says. “We’d like to think that Rita’s can be a stronger East Coast brand.”

Falconhead acquired Rita’s for an undisclosed amount from an investment group led by Jim Rudolph, former chairman and CEO of Rita’s. Rudolph still has a minority stake in the brand and will remain as vice chairman.

Falconhead, meanwhile, is searching for a new leadership team that can help drive Rita’s growth, which Christopoul says will be quick. 

“We’re pretty highly engaged in bringing in a new CEO and constructing a new board,” Christopoul says. “That board will have folks that have a lot of relevant experience around [quick-serve] franchising, both nationally and internationally.”

By Sam Oches

Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Desserts, Finance, Growth, News, Rita's Italian Ice