- Au Bon Pain has been purchased by Ampex Brands, a Yum Brands and 7-Eleven franchisee that operates more than 400 restaurants and convenience stores, according to a press release emailed to Restaurant Dive. The deal, which the Wall Street Journal reports includes around $60 million in assets, was finalized on Tuesday. Au Bon Pain was previously operated by ABP Corporation, a Panera Bread subsidiary.
- The café chain's 171 locations will grow Ampex's annual revenue by roughly 10% and gives Ampex franchising rights to an additional 131 locations. The deal marks the first time Ampex has assumed the role of franchisor, and expands the company's footprint internationally.
- This transactions reflects the growing power restaurant franchisees are amassing in the U.S. Earlier this month, Luby's sold Fuddruckers for $18.5 million to Black Titan Franchise systems, an affiliate of Nicholas Perkins.
Though Ampex isn't a franchisee behemoth — the company made roughly $500 million in annual sales prior to the acquisition while leading franchisee Flynn Restaurant Group rakes in $3.5 billion — the shift from operator to franchisor is significant.
Ampex CEO Tabbassum Mumtaz has assembled a new leadership team to help with this transition and position the café chain for growth despite the pandemic disruption the segment has experienced due to fewer morning commuters and a decreased business lunch crowd.
"The ability for a consumer to use us across all day parts and snack periods gives us an advantage," Mumtaz said in an emailed statement. "The reward of being in places with captive audiences is that we are able to capitalize on that business by providing superior quality food that is also good for you."
Mumtaz tapped Ericka Garza, formerly the senior franchise growth leader for Pizza Hut, as Au Bon Pain's new brand president. Brian Bacica, mostly recently CEO of Peak Event Services and formerly at Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Orlando Parks, will serve as chief operating officer. Raising Cane's veteran Beth Collins will be Ampex Brand's first global chief marketing officer and will oversee brand responsibilities for both Au Bon Pain and Ampex.
The decades of restaurant and foodservice experience between these leaders should bode well for Au Bon Pain's future. Under Panera, which bought the chain in 2017, many of the café chain's locations were being converted to Panera locations or shuttered, Mumtaz told WSJ. The chain's U.S. sales slipped 8.1% in 2020 and total units contracted by 5.6%, according to Technomic data shared by Restaurant Business.
"The company was intending to sunset the brand," Mumtaz said. "We expect the environment to remain challenging over the next several months due to COVID related shutdowns and the location of the cafes, but as the country returns to normal, we believe the cafes will too."
But Ampex plans to quickly launch expansion efforts. The company will focus on growth in the chain's Northeast and mid-Atlantic markets and will begin opening corporate-owned locations once "existing cafes are reopened and executing with positive results," according to the press release.
"We see a solid future for both Au Bon Pain and our broader portfolio," Mumtaz said in a statement. "Our QSR brands performed extraordinarily well throughout the pandemic as guests moved to drive-thru. That performance allowed us to diversify and jump on a great opportunity to reposition a legacy brand. The bakery café category will rebound, and Au Bon Pain is well-positioned to grow."
The company believes there is opportunity for Au Bon Pain to expand via nontraditional locations, such as airports, universities, hospitals and transportation hubs, as the U.S. economy rebounds from the impact of COVID-19.
"Smaller footprints with less dine-in seating are the future of fast-casual dining, and having a successful prototype with long-standing institutional relationships allows for flexibility as we grow," Garza said in a statement.