With its recent acquisition of 32 Applebee’s restaurants, the Apple Gold Group of Raleigh has become the casual dining chain’s second largest franchisee in the world.
The deal is the group’s single largest acquisition ever, and comes just nine months after it acquired 13 restaurants in South Carolina.
“Our brand is definitely (moving) in a positive direction and so we’re excited about the opportunity to take advantage of some other folks’ interest in starting to look at other ventures for themselves,” said Elizabeth McGee, Apple Gold’s chief financial officer.
Apple Gold, which was founded in 1984 by CEO Michael Olander, now owns 119 restaurants in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Oklahoma and Arkansas. The group owns nine Applebee’s in the Triangle.
Apple Gold has about 6,500 employees, including roughly 35 at its headquarters in Raleigh.
The 32 stores acquired this week included 27 in South Carolina, four in Asheville and one in Georgia. They were all owned by the Apple J partnership of Greenville, S.C. McGee said the partnership was among the two or three best performing franchises in the Applebee’s system.
“They’ve grown their business really well in terms of overall sales,” she said.
Terms of the acquisition weren’t disclosed.
Many casual chain restaurants struggled during the recession as consumers cut back on dining out. McGee said Apple Gold’s restaurants have seen some increases in sales of late, particularly related to value options such as Applebee’s 2-for-$20 offer.
“Because the economy is starting to shift we’re starting to see people come back more frequently,” she said.
Applebee’s is also now pushing its U550 menu, which includes meals with less than 550 calories.
McGee said the key to success is to continue to find ways to integrate new items into the menu to keep things fresh while also investing in training staff to improve customers’ experience.
Apple Gold is also renovating 23 of its restaurants this year, an effort that includes giving the buildings a facelift and retraining staff.
McGee said Apple Gold also remains extremely happy with its relationship between franchisees and Applebee’s International. She noted that Olander serves on a number of the franchisee advisory boards.
“He’s integrated into the Applebee’s system and he believes in it,” McGee said. “... His view is, ‘I’m all in. I’ve been all in for 28 years, and I’m going to keep being all in.’ ”