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Mike Archer and P.E. firm buy Houlihan’s

houlihans exterior

Former Applebee’s, TGI Fridays and Morton’s president Mike Archer is teaming up with the private-equity firm York Capital Management to buy the Houlihan’s casual-dining concept and its affiliated fine-dining brands.

Upon completion of the deal, the CEO of Houlihan’s parent company, industry veteran Bob Hartnett, will relinquish his post to Archer.

The price York Capital will pay Houlihan’s current owner, Goldner Hawn Johnson & Morrison, was not disclosed. Nor were other details of the deal, other than a target closing date of December.

Houlihan’s current parent, HRI Inc., operates or franchises 90 restaurants in total. Most of them, and virtually all of the franchised outlets, are Houlihan’s units.  Most have evolved in recent years into polished-casual places featuring a diversified menu of small plates.

HRI’s other brands include Devon’s Seafood Grill, Bristol Seafood Grill and J. Gilbert’s Wood-Fired Steaks.

The change in ownership will add another chapter to the lengthy history of Houlihan’s, which began in 1972. It was once a leading contender in casual dining, competing head-to-head with the reigning champs TGI Fridays, Steak and Ale and Chi-Chi’s. It was owned for long stretches by Gilbert/Robinson and W.R. Grace, where it was the big-brother brand to a small upstart called Applebee’s. 

The concept was owned briefly by the operations of New York’s Dennis Reese. It went bankrupt, struggled to find its footing, and was recast a number of years ago as a higher-echelon pioneer in what is now known as polished casual.

The deal puts Archer back atop a sizeable casual chain. Starting as an hourly in the original Morton’s, working for founder Arnie Morton, Archer rose to become president of the high-end concept. He also held high-level positions at Del Frisco and Sullivan’s when those steak chains were owned by Lonestar Steakhouse.

More recently, Archer headed Applebee’s under its ownership by DineEquity.

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