Food News

Houston-based Ignite Restaurant Group Buys Romano's Macaroni Grill

Dallas restaurateur Phil Romano opened the first Macaroni Grill in 1988 and thus began the schooling of waiters around the country on how to write their name upside down. (That was a thing the waiters once did there. Not sure exactly why, but people seemed to like it.)

In 1989, just a year after opening that first restaurant near San Antonio, Dallas-based Brinker International bought the franchise rights to the Macaroni Grill, and later sold part of the chain to Golden Gate Capital ... and unless you have a finance degree your eyes glaze over here.

Yesterday Houston-based Ignite Restaurant Group announced it has agreed to acquire Romano's Macaroni Grill for approximately $55 million in an all-cash transaction from private equity firm Golden Gate Capital, management and investors.

Ignite currently owns and operates 129 Joe's Crab Shacks and 15 Brick House Tavern and Hops around the country.

"We have a history of driving operating improvements at Joe's Crab Shack," said Ray Blanchette, president and chief executive officer of Ignite, "and we believe we have identified significant opportunities and synergies that we will leverage over the next 12 months and beyond. We are excited that this acquisition will transform Ignite into a company with three high quality casual dining brands, almost one billion in revenues, and significant earnings growth potential over time."

Meanwhile, Phil Romano, who also founded Fuddrucker's and EatZi's, the latter of which you can't even get a parking spot at noon on a Wednesday, continues his restaurant pursuits. He's now a primary partner in the Trinity Groves development where he recently opened Babb Bros. BBQ and Blues, and not just as a guy who signs papers and barks orders (well, I imagine he does the latter, as he probably should). On a recent visit to the barbecue restaurant I spotted Romano in the kitchen cooking. And now he's opening the first Hofmann's Hot Dogs restaurant next door to Babb Bros. What's next, Phil?

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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.