Business

Yum Brands seeks to sell Long John Silver's, A&W

Yum co-branded Long John Silver's and A&W restaurants, like the one on East Main Street at Walton Avenue in Lexington. Long John Silver's, a fish restaurant chain, was founded in Lexington.
Yum co-branded Long John Silver's and A&W restaurants, like the one on East Main Street at Walton Avenue in Lexington. Long John Silver's, a fish restaurant chain, was founded in Lexington.

Louisville-based Yum Brands announced Tuesday that it's seeking to sell off Long John Silver's, which was founded in Lexington, and A&W.

In a statement, the company said it's focusing on its core brands of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC and its international expansion.

"We do not believe Long John Silver's and A&W ... fit into our long-term growth strategy," said CEO David Novak in a statement.

While Yum's brands have more than 37,000 restaurants worldwide, Long John Silver's and A&W account for just 1,630, or 4.4 percent. All of the latter are owned by franchisees, a point that was raised as part of a lawsuit by one of them last year.

Lexington-based Treasure Isles Inc. sued Yum, claiming the company fraudulently convinced it that co-branded Long John Silver's and A&W restaurants would be a success as opposed to the "abject failure" they became.

The suit came after Treasure Isles filed for bankruptcy protection in 2010. In the suit, the company blamed its bankruptcy on Yum, saying the company failed to support the co-branded restaurants with marketing and struck a deal with a group of owners of stand-alone A&W restaurants that led to increased costs.

The first such co-branded restaurant of the two brands was opened by Treasure Isles in 2000, according to the suit. By 2009, the suit said, Yum stopped offering co-branded A&W and Long John Silver's restaurant franchises for sale. The suit also claims Yum sold 186 co-branded stores that it owned at "fire sale" prices and removed the A&W brand from all 100 co-branded A&W and KFC restaurants, too.

A Yum spokesman could not be reached Tuesday afternoon to address whether the suit, which is ongoing, factored into the decision to sell the brands.

It will be the first new ownership for the brand in nearly a decade. Yum purchased the companies in 2002 and moved the corporate offices of both from Lexington to Louisville the following year.

Long John Silver's history in Lexington dates to 1969 when a prototype Long John Silver's Fish 'n' Chips was built on Southland Drive. The company thrived for years under the ownership of Jerrico, which bought it in 1975. Jerrico operated Jerry's restaurants and founded Fazoli's.

Jerrico was taken private in 1989 in a $626 million leveraged buyout, leaving Long John Silver's with $275 million in high-interest debt.

The company struggled with the debt, and Long John Silver's sought bankruptcy protection in June 1998.

A year later, A&W Restaurants, owned by a group of investors, bought Long John Silver's for $220 million. At the time, the two brands had more than 2,200 restaurants, about 600 more than they do now.

Three years later, though, Yum, or Tricon as it was named at the time, acquired the companies for $320 million.

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