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Activist Investor Wants Del Frisco's To Sell Itself

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Del Frisco's

Hedge fund Engaged Capital, having acquired about 10% of Del Frisco's Restaurant Group's shares, now plans to push the company to sell itself.

Engaged Capital said the Southlake, Texas-based restaurant operator is poorly run and has made ill-advised acquisitions of other restaurant chains, the Wall Street Journal reports. The hedge fund made its opinions known in a letter to the company's board this week.

In response, Del Frisco’s board adopted a measure — a so-called poison pill — that dilutes the company's stock if any one shareholder reaches the point of owning at least 10% of the company. 

Del Frisco’s, which operates more than 80 restaurants, including Double Eagle steakhouses, Barcelona Wine Bar, bartaco and Del Frisco’s Grilles, has seen its share prices more than halve this year.

Even so, during recent earnings calls, Del Frisco’s CEO Norman Abdallah outlined the company's plans for growth, especially for its Barcelona and bartaco brands.

"We believe Barcelona has the potential for 50 to 100 restaurants domestically, while bartaco has the potential for 200 to 300 restaurants domestically," Abdallah said during the company's Q2 call this summer.

"These targets would suggest that by year-end our emerging brands would be less than 20% penetrated. So all-in-all, we foresee significant growth opportunities of our brands relative to their current footprint ..."

During the more recent Q3 call in November, Abdallah acknowledged that "there is a great deal of skepticism around the new [Del Frisco's] given the risk of integration, our elevated debt levels, coupled with the dilution from our recent secondary offering."

Abdallah said the recent sale of the company's Sullivan's brand for $32M would reduce Del Frisco's debt load.

Newport Beach, California-based Engaged Capital manages about $750M in assets and has a history of successfully pressing companies to sell themselves or major assets, including Jamba Inc. and Hain Celestial Group.