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Outback owner OSI may go public again

TAMPA — The owners of Outback Steakhouse are weighing whether to cash in by turning the chain into a publicly traded company again.

Officials at Tampa-based OSI Restaurant Partners would not comment Tuesday, citing SEC quiet period rules. But the privately held company put out a statement that it is considering filing a prospectus within two months that would be the precursor to selling shares for the first time in five years.

Second only to Red Lobster/Olive Garden parent Darden Restaurants Inc. among the big casual-dining chains, OSI generated about $3.6 billion in revenue for parent Kangaroo Holdings Inc. in the most recent fiscal year. The company operates more than 1,400 restaurants under five brands, including more than 900 Outbacks.

Outback was sold to Bain Capital and Catterton Partners for $3.2 billion in 2007, while some of the founding partners — including Bob Basham and Chris Sullivan — retained their minority stakes and board seats.

Since then the company weathered and reversed double-digit declines in comparable-store sales, a barometer of a chain's hold on its customers. It also reduced its far-flung overseas ventures, closing marginal stores and selling startup brands Cheeseburger in Paradise and Lee Roy Selmon's that were not considered core holdings.

In 2009, OSI also paid $19 million to settle a class-action sex discrimination suit filed on behalf of thousands of its female employees two months after hiring Liz Smith, the No. 2 executive at Avon Products, as the restaurant chain's first female chief executive. Her employment contract includes incentive bonuses of up to $15 million if OSI successfully completes an initial public offering.

She has shuffled management, tweaked the menu with less expensive entrees and classed up the dated look of Outback restaurants. She also pushed to expand locations of Bonefish Grill, which is seen as the company's next growth vehicle.

Now operating income is up, debt has been whittled down to $1.5 billion and comparable-store sales rose for six consecutive quarters. In the most recent quarter, system sales rose 5.6 percent at Outback stores, 6.3 percent at Carrabba's Italian Grill, 7.4 percent at Bonefish Grill and 10.1 percent at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8252.

Outback owner OSI may go public again 03/13/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 9:17pm]
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