Kona Grill’s carousel of leadership over the past two years could now extend into ownership. Two former chief executives, Berke Bakay and Marcus Jundt, are joining forces in a bid to buy the struggling polished brand out of a bankruptcy auction, according to a securities filing.
Per the filing, Bakay’s BBS Capital Fund L.P. agreed to loan Marcus Jundt’s Williston Holding Co. roughly $2 million in the company’s “stalking-horse bid,” announced last week. Bakay, a former activist and director, was named Kona Grill’s CEO in 2012 and led the chain on a growth spurt. Its stock more than quadrupled in the next three years. Jundt, one of Kona Grill’s founders, was on the board from 2000–2009 and served as CEO from 2006–2009. He was also the company’s chairman. The brand had 22 locations when Jundt departed in 2009 and was at 44 this past September. All but one of those new locations opened between 2013–2017.
Jundt then returned last November and took over as sole CEO in January, less than two months after Kona Grill attempted a dual arrangement with Jundt and restaurateur Steve Schussler. That after COO Jim Kuhn, who replaced Bakay, stepped down.
Kona Grill’s issues came to a head in May when it filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in United States Bankruptcy Court for the Delaware District. The Scottsdale, Arizona-based company said it had assets of $53.6 million and debts of $74 million, and just $1.2 million in cash on hand.
Also per the filing, Kona Grill closed 15 more restaurants and was down to 27 units. There were 34 locations in 20 states when the company filed its annual report in April.
An auction hearing for Kona Grill’s sale is scheduled for July 26. Jundt’s Williston Holding offered up $20.3 million in a “stalking horse” asset purchase agreement on May 14 for the company. This also assumed $7.1 million in liabilities and included a $1 million breakup fee payable to Williston Holding, once known as Mexican Restaurants, Inc. The Houston-based company operates more than 50 locations across 10 brands, including Tortuga Mexican Kitchen, Uberrito Fresh Mex, and Williston Brewing Co.
The “stalking horse” bid means another party could come in and offer more for Kona Grill. If that happens, Williston Holding receives the $1 million “breakup fee.” If the deal is accepted and closes, the company would acquire Kona Grill’s current footprint as well as the rest of its business assets.
The Tuesday filing said Bakay’s BBS Fund agreed to loan more than $2 million as part of that purchase agreement.
Before its bankruptcy filing, Kona Grill named Jonathan Tibus, managing director with turnaround firm Alvarez & Marsal, CEO, effective April 17. He previously served as CEO of Real Mex Restaurants (Chevy’s, El Torito, Sinigual, and Las Brisas), and led the since dissipated Ignite Restaurant Group (Joe’s Crab Shack and Brickhouse Tavern) and Last Call Operating Co. (Fox & Hound, Champps). All of those companies filed for bankruptcy protection. Tibus also served as chief restructuring officer at Quiznos, a quick-service brand that emerged from bankruptcy in 2014, and chief operating officer of Max & Erma’s, which filed for chapter 11 protection in 2009 and nearly shuttered all of its restaurants.
Kona Grill’s sales were sliding into the chapter 11 filing. Same-store sales dropped 12.3 percent in 2018 after declining 5.9 percent in 2017. This after six consecutive years of comparable restaurant sale increases.
Revenue fell 12.4 percent in the fiscal year that ended December 31, year-over-year.
Kona Grill swung a net loss of $31.968 million last year compared to $23.432 million the previous year. That’s 20.4 percent of restaurant sales.
Average-unit volumes dropped to $3.492 million in 2018 from $4.119 million the previous year. EBITDA was negative $15.9 million.