Dallas-based private equity firm CenterOak Partners acquired a majority stake in Wetzel’s Pretzels LLC from Los Angeles-based private equity firm Levine Leichtman Capital Partners. The purchase price, which included $66.5 million in debt finance, is estimated to have been near $100 million. Headquartered in Pasadena, Calif., Wetzel’s Pretzels is the second largest owner and franchiser of soft pretzel stores, with more than 300 company-owned and franchise locations in 28 states and six countries.

Levine Leichtman exited its investment in the franchise, which it acquired in 2007. The firm says the deal brought it a 7x return on its original investment nine years ago.

Wetzel’s CEO, Bill Phelps, will remain in his current role, with co-founder Rick Wetzel retaining a seat on the company’s board of directors.

Armed with a vision and a tasty recipe for soft pretzel perfection, Bill Phelps and Rick Wetzel opened the first Wetzel’s Pretzels bakery in Redondo Beach, Calif., in 1994. Long lines of hungry customers soon formed, attracted by mouth-watering soft pretzels that were hand-rolled, baked fresh and served hot from the oven. As word spread about these golden-on-the-outside pretzels, the company added additional offerings to its menu.

Today, Wetzel’s Pretzels has grown to more than 300 fresh bakeries across the United States and around the world, including premier locations at Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort. Every Wetzel’s Pretzels bakery adheres to the original vision of its founders; that each super-premium pretzel will be crafted from fresh dough and baked in-store consistently throughout the day, to ensure a delicious offering for each consumer, regardless of when the craving for a pretzel strikes.

The move follows a series of recent deals in the snack food and baked goods market. In mid-August, Philippine snack food maker Universal Robina Corp. (PSE: URC) agreed to acquire Australia’s second biggest salty snacks maker Consolidated Snacks Pty. Ltd. (CSPL), which operates as Snack Brands Australia, for AU$600 million (USD$458 million).

Earlier in August, Austin, Texas-based Amplify Snack Brands Inc. (NYSE: BETR) agreed to acquire British premium snack food business Crisps Topco Ltd, operating as Tyrrells, from private equity firm Investcorp (BHSE: INVCORP) and Tyrrells’ management for £300 million.

In July, Gores Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ CM: GRSHU, GRSH, GRSHW), a blank check company sponsored by private equity firm The Gores Group LLC, agreed to acquire Hostess Brands LLC, maker of Hostess Twinkies, Ding Dongs and CupCakes, from HB Holdings LLC, owned by private equity firm Apollo Global Management LLC (NYSE: APO) and Metropoulos and Co., in a reverse merger deal valued at $2.3 billion, representing 10.4x the $220 million estimated 2016 adjusted EBITDA of Hostess Brands.

Also in July, Pennsylvania-based snack food company Utz Quality Foods Inc. agreed to acquire Alabama-based Golden Enterprises Inc. (NASDAQ: GLDC), maker of the Golden Flake brand, for $135.5 million.

In March, Clearlake Capital Group LP acquired New Jersey-based That’s How We Roll LLC, a marketer of branded snacks Mrs. Thinsters and Dippin’ Chips, which are distributed to over 10,000 locations within grocery, club and mass in North America.

“From rolling the first Wetzel’s Pretzel in our kitchens more than 23 years ago, our vision of serving fresh, delicious pretzels in a fun atmosphere has remained the same,” said Bill Phelps, Wetzel’s co-founder and CEO. “We’re thrilled to have found a business partner in CenterOak Partners that believes in that vision, and understands our top priority is the profitability of our franchise partners.”

“We are excited to partner with the company and its tenured and successful management team,” said Randall Fojtasek, managing partner of CenterOak. “The company has demonstrated consistent, stable growth in its more than two decades of operation and has developed an exceptional brand.”

Wetzel’s Pretzels said its 2016 highlights include a year-to-date same store sales increase of 6.7% with system wide sales estimated at $165 million, and the opening of flagship locations in Manhattan’s Fulton Center and the Mall of America.

CenterOak Partners invested in Wetzel’s Pretzels with capital from its $420 million CenterOak Equity Fund I LP.

Golub Capital acted as administrative agent, sole bookrunner and sole lead arranger, and provided $66.5 million in financing to CenterOak Partners in connection with the transaction. Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP provided legal counsel services to CenterOak Partners. North Point Advisors served as financial adviser to Wetzel’s Pretzels.

Golub Capital’s middle market lending group provides financing for middle market, private equity-backed transactions with hold positions of up to $300 million and is an arranger of credit facilities up to $750 million. Golub Capital has over $18 billion of capital under management, with lending offices in Chicago, New York and San Francisco.

CenterOak Partners LLC is a private equity firm with a focus on making control-oriented investments in middle market companies organized or operating in the U.S. The firm specializes in three key industry sectors: Industrial Growth, Consumer, and Business Services. CenterOak’s senior leaders and their predecessor funds have managed over $1.8 billion of equity capital commitments and have completed nearly 100 acquisitions representing over $3 billion in transaction value.



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