Italian ice franchisor changes PE hands

Falconhead Capital has sold its controlling stake in Rita’s Franchise Company to Argosy Private Equity and MTN Capital.

After pursuing an aggressive expansion of the brand since its acquisition in 2011, Falconhead Capital has sold its controlling stake in Rita’s Franchise Company to a duo of private equity peers, Argosy Private Equity and MTN Capital.

Founded in 1984, Rita’s offers a variety of frozen desserts including Italian ice, gelato, and custard at more than 600 locations across 30 states throughout the US. In addition, the Trevose, Pennsylvania-based company has sold franchises in China, the Philippines, Canada and Dubai.

Argosy founding partner Kirk Griswold, who will become chairman of Rita’s board, told Agri Investor that his firm has worked with MTN, which sourced the deal, on two previous transactions. Based in Wayne, Pennsylvania, his firm has also long been familiar with Rita’s and the “love” that residents hold for it, having been outbid by another franchisor who purchased the company from its founders back in 2005.

Falconhead acquired Rita’s from Rudolph in 2011 and in the years since the company has expanded from its initial focus on the East Coast to establish a presence throughout the country and internationally, opening 70 stores in 2014 alone. In January, Rita’s launched a line of all-natural Italian Ices and Griswold said that in addition to continuing to expand the franchise domestically and internationally, the company will continue to developing all-natural products.

Argosy is a lower mid-market private equity firm with $600 million in assets under management. Founded in 1990, the firm is based in Wayne, Pennsylvania. New York-based MTN Capital is a lower mid-market private equity firm that acts as an independent sponsor. Founded in 2003, the firm focuses on the retail, consumer products and manufacturing sectors.

Falconhead is a private equity firm focused on the sport, leisure, lifestyle and media industries. Founded in 1998, the firm has $400 million in assets under management and its other current food-related investments are Javo Beverage Company and Multi-Flow Industries, which provides fountain beverages. Past food investments include Country Pure Foods, Jamba Juice and seasoned-snack foods provider Shearer’s Foods.

The firms declined to disclose financial details.