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The 10 biggest restaurant chain acquisitions

Subway appears to be on the verge of completing the third-largest chain acquisition by value in history. Here are a look at the 10 biggest, at least until that one is complete.
largest restaurant acquisitions
Burger King's $11.4 billion acquisition of Tim Hortons is in no danger of being supplanted as the largest restaurant chain deal. | Photo: Shutterstock.

Subway is reportedly near a deal to sell itself to Roark Capital for $9.6 billion, though discussions remain “fluid.” Even so, that sort of acquisition price would put the Miami/Milford, Conn.-based sandwich giant in rare territory—it would be the third-largest valuation in a restaurant company acquisition of all time.

This list is ranked only by the valuations at the time of the deal and therefore are weighted heavily toward recent years. We did not adjust these prices for inflation, mostly out of laziness.

None of these deals would even rank among the 135 largest buyouts of the past 13 years, according to this particular ranking here. That’s a symbol of the relatively small size of companies in the restaurant industry and the relative lack of the type of massive corporate mergers seen in other industries.

Here’s a look at the largest restaurant deals.

Burger King buys Tim Hortons

Year: 2014

Deal size: $11.4 billion

Burger King acquired the coffee-and-doughnut chain dominant in its native Canada and jumped through all kinds of regulatory hoops there to get the deal done. It led to the creation of Restaurant Brands International.

Inspire Brands acquires Dunkin’

Year: 2020

Price: $11.3 billion

The latest and largest deal from the Roark-owned Inspire Brands took private Dunkin’ Brands, owner of Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins, for $11.3 billion. You’d have thought they’d pay a couple hundred million more to get the top spot but ah well.

Subway would go right here. It would have to be sold for a lot less or a lot more than the reported $9.6 billion price for it to go anywhere but here. 

JAB acquires Panera

Year: 2017

Price: $7.16 billion

The first JAB Holding acquisition on this list. The European investment firm was on a massive buying spree and took private Panera Bread before shifting its strategy.

Coca-Cola acquires Costa Coffee

Year: 2019

Price: $5.1 billion

We included this deal largely because Coke is a U.S. company. Costa Coffee is a large-scale, U.K.-based coffee brand. Coke is now looking to bring that concept to the U.S. with shops and fancy vending machines.

3G acquires Burger King

Year: 2010

Price: $3.3 billion

We suspect that Burger King itself would be on this list if we adjusted for inflation. This was a notable and impactful deal in the industry, leading to dramatic international growth for the burger chain and ultimately the creation of RBI.

Bain, Catterton buy Bloomin’ Brands

Year: 2006

Price: $3.2 billion

The pair of private equity firms acquired the owner of Outback Steakhouse for what at the time was a massive valuation. They took it public six years later. By the way, its enterprise value is $3.1 billion right now, which probably explains why the company has an activist investor.

Arby’s buys Buffalo Wild Wings

Year: 2018

Price: $2.9 billion

Five years ago, a bunch of us restaurant journalists were sitting around innocently and then the press release came across that Arby’s—Arby’s—acquired Buffalo Wild Wings for the tidy sum of $2.9 billion, and we all collectively gasped. They then created Inspire Brands. I just now realized that Roark would be on this ranking four times with a Subway acquisition. Huh

A bunch of PE firms buy Dunkin’ Donuts

Year: 2006

Price: $2.425 billion

Dunkin’ makes its second appearance on this list with its 2006 sale to a trio of private equity firms, Bain Capital, Carlyle and Thomas H. Lee. No, Mitt Romney was not involved in this deal.

Inspire buys Sonic Drive-In

Year: 2018

Price: $2.3 billion

Paul Brown was on a major shopping spree for about three years that made life rather interesting. Inspire is on this ranking three times alone, which is what happens when you’re one of the only major industry buyers for a stretch.

Triarc buys Wendy’s

Year: 2008

Price: $2.3 billion

This was an odd deal. Nelson Peltz owned Arby’s and was agitating for change at Wendy’s, got it to sell Tim Hortons and Baja Fresh, then bought it himself and merged it with Arby’s, only to sell Arby’s four years later to Roark. Arby’s thrived in the aftermath and bought up a bunch of other chains and Wendy’s remains the loner.

Honorable mentions

In 2007, IHOP bought Applebee’s for $2.1 billion and then waited like 15 years to buy anything else. Bain bought Domino’s for $1.1 billion in 1999, which may or may not have been the first billion-dollar deal in the restaurant space. Darden sold Red Lobster in 2014 for $2.1 billion, which is the price you can get for a bunch of real estate with fish restaurants on it.

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