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Recapping 2023’s Dining M&As

Bracha Arnold
December 13, 2023
Recapping 2023’s Dining M&As

Mergers and acquisitions are gaining popularity in the restaurant space as the current economic climate continues to squeeze dining margins. We look at three recent restaurant mergers to see what the data reveals about these deals.

  1. Main Squeeze Juice: Expanding To Include Up and Coming Families

Main Squeeze Juice Co. opened its first store in New Orleans in 2017 and has since grown to 28 locations across several southern states. The company acquired I Love Juice Bar in March 2023 with the intention of merging the two companies under the “Main Squeeze Juice Co.” banner, adding 23 units to the Louisiana-based juice chain and enhancing operational efficiency. And since most of I Love Juice’s venues operate in states where Main Squeeze has yet to establish a presence, the deal will help Main Squeeze expand into new markets.

But the merger is not just about quantity; it's a qualitative step in expanding Main Squeeze's demographic reach. Analyzing the two chains’ captured market trade areas using the STI: Popstats 2022 dataset reveals that Main Squeeze, with its trade area median household income (HHI) of $83.5K/year, tends to attract relatively high-income visitors. Meanwhile,visitors to I Love Juice tend to come from more middle-income neighborhoods – the chain has a trade area median HHI of $70.7K/year, closer to the nationwide median HHI of $69.5K. This difference is not just geographic – in Texas, for example, where both chains operate, the median HHI in Main Squeeze’s trade area is significantly higher than that of I Love Juice. 

Using the PersonaLive dataset to look at the psychographic makeup of the chains’ captured market also reveals differences between the two brands’ audiences. Main Squeeze visitors tend to hail from more family-friendly areas, and its trade area has a higher share of "Ultra Wealthy Families," "Wealthy Suburban Families," and “Upper Suburban Diverse Families'' than that of I Love Juice. Meanwhile, I Love Juice attracts more "Young Professionals." This means that the merger positions Main Squeeze to capture a coveted customer base – young, upwardly mobile professionals – while retaining its stable foundation of high-earning families.

  1. Subway: Keeping Things Fresh

Subway is the largest food chain in the country by number of locations, with over 20,000 sandwich shops throughout the United States. The chain has experienced a challenging few years, culminating in an August sale to private equity firm Roark Capital, also owns sandwich chains Jimmy John’s and Arby’s. 

Subs were particularly popular with dining consumers in 2023, perhaps due to their relative affordability and simplicity during these times of ongoing economic uncertainty. And the acquisition of Subway expands Roark Capital offers the equity firm a unique advantage to reach particularly dedicated sandwich aficionados. 

Almost half of Arby’s and Jimmy John’s visitors also visited Subway between December 2022 and November 2023, compared to around a quarter of Subway and Jimmy John’s visitors who also visited Arby’s. Just 7.2% and 10.2% of Subway and Arby’s visitors, respectively, also visited Jimmy John’s. This means that a large portion of Roark Capital’s existing sandwich chains’ audience already patronizes Subway – and the deal gives Roark the opportunity to shape the chains’ respective strategies so they can operate in synergy in the sandwich market.    

  1. Ruth’s Chris: Cornering the Market

Darden Restaurants Inc. is a force in the dining scene, with nine chains that run the gamut from fine dining to casual eating. The company, which operates over 1,900 restaurants across its various banners, recently acquired fine-dining chain Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.

By acquiring Ruth’s Chris, Darden is significantly expanding its fine dining portfolio. The steakhouse joins the two other high-end Darden chains in Darden’s portfolio – Eddie V’s and The Capital Grille – and now accounts for 47.8% of all fine-dining visits to Darden banners.   And since Ruth’s Chris is slightly more accessible than the other two chains – its trade area median HHI is $85.0K, compared to $96.4K and $99.0K for Eddie V’s and Capital Grille, respectively – the acquisition may help Darden reach a wider spectrum of fine dining guests.

Merging and Shaking

Acquisitions can help small businesses streamline efforts and cut overhead costs while allowing larger brands to expand their reach to more audiences. With more dining M&As expected in the coming year, what will be the big restaurant acquisitions of 2024?  

Visit to find out.

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