A Southern Fast-Casual Chain Offers Jose Garces a Lifeline

Bankrupted chef Jose Garces found a financial lifeline from an unexpected corner of the industry. Ballard Brands, a fast-casual group with about 150 restaurants headquartered outside of New Orleans, Louisiana, announced that it had bought Philadelphia-based Garces’ Restaurant Group for over $5 million in cash and assumed liabilities, according to the company.

The deal puts Ballard in control of all 13 of Garces’ restaurants, plus the company’s catering arm, a 40-acre farm in Pennsylvania, and the Garces Foundation. Ballard will also be keeping on “most if not all” of the Garces group’s 750 employees, according to the agreement. (It’s worth mentioning that three weeks ago Garces posted a message on Instagram reiterating that the company was still fully operational, noting the group’s “over 800 employees” at that time.)

In an interview with Philadelphia magazine following the announcement, Garces said that all of his restaurants would stay open for now. He was happy with the Ballard arrangement, saying that the two companies brought complementary sets of strengths to the table: Ballard’s fast-casual knowledge combined with the Garces group’s hospitality and (perhaps debatable) restaurant management skills.

Who Is The Buyer?

The Ballard Brands restaurant group was founded by three brothers, Paul, Scott, and Steve Ballard, in 2012. The brothers had previously founded two fast-casual chains in the beverage space, Smoothie King and PJs Coffee, in Louisiana and North Carolina. The group was formed to bring together a range of franchised restaurant brands mostly concentrated in the southeastern region of the U.S., including WOW Cafe, PJs Coffee, The Original City Diner, and Boardhouse Serious Sandwiches. Needless to say, the Garces restaurants are going to stick out among this particular brand mix.

Ballard Brands declined to comment on the deal, noting that another joint statement from both parties would be released soon.

“Jose will continue to bring his vision, passion and creativity to the culinary concepts that have won acclaim for several of his restaurants and will be hugely popular with customers,” a Garces’ group spokesperson said in an email. “Other details as it relates to structure are still being designed.”

At this point, the deal offers Garces exactly what he needs: an escape from the angry landlords, investors, and vendors knocking down his door. Ballard is giving him, at least on paper, a fresh start. He’s being positioned as the creative genius coming in to whip up Ballard’s WOW Cafes, while handing over the operational reins to a business with more financial infrastructure. Plus, he didn’t suddenly put 750 people out of work in the process. It’s a win, for now.

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