The Greene Turtle, a Maryland-based sports bar franchise with over 30 locations, reorganized under a new holding company and made its first acquisition. New ITA Group Holdings has purchased Clark Crew BBQ, an award-winning Oklahoma City-based barbecue restaurant founded by BBQ Grand Champion and pitmaster Travis Clark.
Greene Turtle CEO Geo Concepcion was COO of Famous Dave’s of America in 2017 when he met Clark, who developed the Clark Crew full-service barbecue in 2012 in partnership with Famous Dave’s parent, BBQ Holdings.
The two have remained close over the years and began crafting the blueprint for this deal about six months ago, “as we began to think about what the future would hold for our respective organizations,” Concepcion said. He did not disclose any details of the transaction.
Post-closing, Concepcion will focus on ways to help improve Clark’s sports bar environment, while Clark will assist The Greene Turtle in the culinary and operational areas. An example of Clark’s culinary creativity is the Clark Crew BBQ 5XL sandwich, which features over a pound of barbecue on a toasted bun and is filled with smoked bologna, ground pork, garlic sausage, brisket sliced and topped with ribs.
The acquisition was completed concurrently with the recapitalization of Greene Turtle, with debt provided by Sandy Spring Bank and Pelham S2K. “This highlights one of the challenges for the industry as a whole, which is for companies still recovering from COVID to get back to 2019 levels that can’t access public markets or otherwise,” Concepcion said. . These companies “need to find funding partners who understand the story, understand the vision, and have confidence in the leadership team and the content that is being funded.”
For ITA, this story will involve three different lines of business: Greene Turtle, Clark Crew BBQ, and the Founder Growth Platform, which invests in and supports emerging founders and concepts, and is inspired by BBQ Holdings’ support of Clark Crew BBQ.
To date, FGP has partnered with seven fast food brands: American two-unit sandwich and craft beer concept RegionAle, four-unit Neo Pizza & Tap House concept, Madrid Spanish Taverna, Greek Mediterranean concept Cypriana , Papi’s Cuban Grill, chicken-and-cookies brand CHX Premium Kitchen and the Fat Patties brand of burgers and shakes.
“It’s really a broad spectrum, and the common denominator is the founders and the people that we have very high confidence in building a scalable brand, and they’re in the early stages,” Concepcion said of of FGP.
The goal is to provide capital and management infrastructure to help brands scale faster to five or 10 units.
“One of the things I learned the hard way coming into the business is that it’s really challenging when you have to deal with some of the difficulties of a turnaround or a transformation,” said Concepcion, like the low number of sales and the decline in profits. margins.
“It’s very difficult to solve, but the same skills involved in solving are really transferable to helping get things started,” he said. “We really saw this as a great opportunity to leverage the skills needed to grow profitability and integrate them to help these early founders in a meaningful way.”
This will be The Greene Turtle’s busiest year in terms of corporate unit development. The brand opened one store in January and three more are expected to open by the end of the year. As the company looks to 2023 and beyond, “we’ll start to re-engage a lot more on the franchise front,” noted Concepcion, who joined the company in 2019 and was tasked with bringing Greene Turtle into full form before making a franchise push.
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“Because the last two units we’ve built are the highest performing in the system, we’re starting to be really happy with what the new Turtle represents,” he said.
As for Clark Crew BBQ, Concepcion estimates it’s one of Oklahoma’s top-performing restaurants with about $8 million in annual sales. ITA will provide all support functions for Clark, including marketing, financial support, accounting and bookkeeping.
No personnel changes are planned, other than the appointment of Clark as an ITA partner. Clark will also serve as president of Clark Crew BBQ.
ITA stands for “In The Arena,” which is inspired by Theodore Roosevelt’s famous 1910 “The Man in the Arena” speech that is “near and dear to my heart,” Concepcion added.
“It symbolizes what we focus on – the concept of being in the arena day in and day out, taking wins and losses while still moving forward. For the restaurant industry, it’s a great reminder and excellent northern light for us to continue to meet the inevitable challenges of our business.”