Jollibee takes full control of Smashburger, with eyes for more

The Philippines-based operator named Jose Minana the chain’s president.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Now that Jollibee Foods Corp. (JFC) has completed its takeover of Smashburger, it is looking for more.

The Philippines-based restaurant giant, eager to become one of the biggest restaurant operators in the world, is on the lookout to acquire additional brands in the U.S. in a bid to grow its market share here.

“Our vision is to be one of the top five restaurant companies in the world,” said Jose “Pepot” Minana, a longtime Jollibee executive who on Friday was named president of Smashburger. He mentioned three markets where the company plans to grow its presence: China, the Philippines and the U.S.

“We are looking at more acquisitions here in the United states,” he added in an interview with Restaurant Business on Friday.

Jollibee has been steadily increasing its ownership of Smashburger since it first bought an interest in the Denver-based fast-casual burger chain in 2015.

It acquired a majority stake earlier this year. On Friday, it acquired the remaining 15% ownership of the chain from Black Shamrock Partners, the investment firm formerly known as Consumer Concept Group that had created the chain.

“The transition for us will enable us to get the big infusion of talent, process and capital into the Smashburger brand,” Smashburger CEO Tom Ryan said in an interview.

As the brand’s president, Minana will oversee Smashburger’s day-to-day operations.

That will enable Ryan, who will remain CEO, to take on the additional title of chief product development advisor for JFC Global.

Ryan will work to enhance Jollibee’s brands across global markets, and for Smashburger he will focus on brand vision, strategy, product and public relations. He said his job will be to “strengthen the core product in key brands around the world” and to guide brands into “a higher goal of relevance.” Jollibee operates 14 brands in 20 countries with 4,000 locations.

Minana first joined Jollibee in 1993 and has been with the company steadily since, outside of an 18-month stint with Motorola in the U.S. in the late 1990s. Most recently, he ran JFC’s U.S. operations.

Ryan said that Minana has been involved in Smashburger since Jollibee first invested in the chain and was an observer and a “friend of the brand since day one.”

“It’s like having your best friend show up for work with you every day,” Ryan said.

Smashburger has more than 300 locations and has been a fast-growing concept since it was founded in 2007, though more recently its sales have slowed. System sales fell more than 3% in 2017, for instance, according to Technomic data.

But Minana said Smashburger has considerable potential, both in the United States and globally. “We have complete faith and belief in the product and the brand,” he said. “It definitely has that future of being a benchmark and a leader in the better burger segment.”

For Jollibee, its moves have solidified its position in the U.S. business. It has long signaled a desire to take a larger role in the world’s biggest restaurant market.

Earlier this year, the company invested $12.4 million in Rick Bayless’ fast casual Tortas Frontera.

“We’re going to bring that chain and really take advantage of the huge market for the Mexican segment,” Minana said.

But it clearly has its eyes set on bigger fish—adding the company’s hefty name to a large group of companies looking to make strategic acquisitions of restaurant chains, joining Roark Capital-owned Inspire Brands, Panera owner JAB Holdings and 3G Capital-backed Restaurant Brands International.

“Expect them to continue to look and invest in category leading, broad-market opportunities on top of Smashburger,” Ryan said.

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