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Gold Star Chili buys Tom+Chee

The venerable Gold Star Chili chain has acquired Tom+Chee, the upstart soup-and-sandwich concept that became a sensation after appearing on the TV show “Shark Tank.”

The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Gold Star, which specializes in a type of chili peculiar to Cincinnati, said it intends to revamp and grow Tom+Chee, in part by shrinking the brand’s footprint and otherwise bringing down costs.

Tom+Chee is also based in the Cincinnati area. It specializes in tomato soup and grilled cheese.

The fast-casual chain shot to fame after a 2013 appearance on “Shark Tank,” a show where entrepreneurs pitch their businesses to such celebrity investors as Mark Cuban. Tom+Chee walked off the set with an agreement to sell 30% of the chain for $600,000. 

The appearance drew 2,400 inquiries from prospective franchisees, according to Tom+Chee’s co-founders, Trew Quackenbush and Corey Ward, veterans of the Palomino polished-casual chain.  They grew the chain to at least 35 locations, prompting Forbes to anoint Tom+Chee as one of the 10 most successful ventures to appear on “Shark Tank.”

But sales tanked and units of the largely franchised concept started closing, shrinking the chain to about 23 locations.

The franchisor was unable to repay a loan and had its assets seized by the lender. Gold Star Chili stepped up to buy the assets on Sept. 20. The deal was not revealed until yesterday.

Local media reports indicate that Quackenbush and Ward will remain active in the management of Tom+Chee, which started as a tent in downtown Cincinnati.

Gold Star specializes in Cincinnati-style chili, a mix of tomato sauce and ground beef served atop spaghetti that's cooked to be especially soft.

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