The Fiesta Restaurant Group Acquisition: Did The Pollo Tropical Shareholders Get Lucky In The $225 Million Deal?

It has recently been in the news that Fiesta Restaurant Group (NASDAQ:FRGI), the parent company of Pollo Tropical, is poised to be acquired by Authentic Restaurant Brands (ARB) for a staggering $225 million i.e., $8.50 per share, representing an c.8% premium to Fiesta Restaurant's previous close. However, the big question worth asking is whether the valuation worth it? Also, why are Florida-based restaurant companies facing so many headwinds? Let us have a closer look.

What Does Fiesta Do?

Fiesta was publicly launched on May 7, 2012, after separating from Carrols Restaurant Group. The company manages and operates a collection of fast-casual dining establishments primarily under the brand name Pollo Tropical. These restaurants, well-known for their signature fire-grilled, citrus-marinated chicken and a range of other tropical-themed dishes, are predominantly situated in Florida. Beyond its owned locations, the company has extended its brand's footprint by franchising Pollo Tropical outlets in diverse international regions including Puerto Rico, Panama, Guyana, the Bahamas, and Ecuador, as well as within Florida itself. Although it previously owned Taco Cabana, the brand was sold in August 2021. Pollo Tropical's success is highlighted by the figures from 2022, which show a commendable $387.4 million in sales from about 145 units, marking an 8.4% rise from 2021.

Who Is The Acquirer?

Authentic Restaurant Brands (ARB), the acquirer of Fiesta, is a subsidiary of New York's Garnett Station Partners, and boasts a portfolio that includes renowned brands like Primanti Bros., PJ Whelihan’s, and Mambo Seafood. Garnett Station Partners made headlines with its acquisition of Firebirds Wood Fire Grill in March and has financial stakes in numerous other ventures, such as Checkers, Kona Ice, and Carrols Restaurant Group.

ARB's mission, as delineated on their website, focuses on brand growth through a mix of foundational values and the sharing of best practices under a unified ownership umbrella. The recent spike in merger and acquisition activities has been a response to the economic challenges of the past three years, including the pressures of inflation.

A Relief For Fiesta Shareholders?

The ARB acquisition comes as a big relief for Fiesta shareholders as Fiesta's stock has been extremely volatile off late. The company has been vulnerable to short-term determinants, experienced a steep decline between March and May due to the U.S. regional banking crisis and subsequent rate hikes. A brief resurgence was observed in June, following the US Fed's decision to momentarily halt further hikes. Also, the impending risk of additional increases by year-end looms large, accentuating recession concerns which could have further destroyed value for its shareholders.

Operational Hurdles in Florida & Other Issues

While the acquisition may seem promising, it is essential to acknowledge the daunting economic conditions in Florida. The state, where Fiesta makes a significant portion of its sales, is grappling with high inflation rates, elevated insurance costs, and a newly-introduced immigration law which is prompting many workers to migrate out of Florida.

Florida's turbulent economic landscape is also characterised by the fact that the state is battling the highest living costs, with cities like Miami and Tampa experiencing inflation rates between 7% and 7.3%. Additionally, labor, which constitutes around 70% of a restaurant's operating costs, is a pressing issue. Not only is there a scarcity of skilled labor, but the recent anti-illegal immigration legislation in Florida further aggravates this challenge.

Another significant concern for Fiesta is the escalating restaurant rental costs, which accounted for almost 6% of its total operating expenses in early 2023. Furthermore, the vulnerability of Florida to extreme weather conditions, coupled with fraudulent activities in the real estate insurance market, is causing insurance premiums to skyrocket.


Source: Yahoo Finance

As we can see in the above chart, Fiesta's stock has been extremely volatile off late and has not created much shareholder value. It is also trading at an Enterprise Value/ Revenue multiple of barely 0.86 which is below the restaurant industry average, largely given the headwinds it faces in the Florida market. Thus, the high-single-digit premium on the acquisition seems like a lucky break for Fiesta shareholders, While the acquisition promises new horizons for Pollo Tropical and Fiesta Restaurant Group, the impending challenges, especially in the tumultuous Florida market, will play a pivotal role in shaping the brand's future trajectory.


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