Lexington restaurant management company Thomas & King announced Friday that it is selling its Applebee's Neighborhood Grill and Bar franchise operations, comprising more than 80 stores.
The sale to RMH Franchise Corp. of Lincoln, Neb., is expected to close before the end of the year.
RMH already owns and operates 60 Applebee's restaurants in 10 states. This acquisition will bring its total number of Applebee's restaurants to more than 140, making it the second-largest Applebee's franchisee in the nation.
RMH said in a news release that it intends to hire many of the employees currently working in the Thomas & King corporate office in Lexington. Thomas & King has been the nation's 19th-largest restaurant franchise company and the sixth-largest Applebee's franchisee, with more than 5,500 employees, 88 Applebee's restaurants and six Johnny Carino's Italian restaurants in Kentucky and several other states.
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Thomas & King will continue to own and develop its Carino's restaurants, according to the release, as well as "develop new business opportunities."
Thomas & King's CEO, Mike Scanlon, said in the release: "RMH is a very professional and highly regarded franchisee of Applebee's and will bring energy, expertise and a passion for our restaurants that will continue our 25 years of success in the business."
When contacted by phone, Scanlon, a former Lexington vice mayor, declined to comment further and said no one else from Thomas & King would comment.
"The press release speaks for itself," he said.
Scanlon founded the company 25 years ago.
"When we started Thomas & King in 1988, our outcome was to build the kind of company we all wanted to work for," he wrote on Thomas & King's website.
FSR Magazine, a restaurant trade publication, reported in July that while Applebee's still led the "fast casual" restaurant segment with $4.5 billion in sales last year, Buffalo Wild Wings, focusing on a lively atmosphere and alcohol sales, made the year's big gains. The magazine reported that Applebee's sales grew only 1.9 percent for the year.
Within the "fast casual" category, general menu restaurant chains have faced competition in recent years from Mexican menus, bakery cafes, "better burger" chains and Asian/noodle restaurants, according to Quick Service and Fast Casual Restaurant News.
In June, RMH added to its roster 15 Applebee's restaurants in the Chicago area. The company also holds Applebee's franchises in Alabama, Florida, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming.
A call to RMH was not immediately returned.
Applebee's is part of the publicly traded company DineEquity Inc., which is also the parent company for IHOP. A call to DineEquity was not immediately returned.
Shares of DineEquity (DIN: Nasdaq) closed Friday at $70.05, up $2.14, or 3.15 percent.