Rebuffed in effort to buy Wolfgang, Alabama businessman heads homeRoy L. Williams, Contributing Writer
Fresh off being rebuffed in his effort to buy York County-based Wolfgang Candy, Sellers is focusing his attention on continuing to expand Pasquale Food Systems Inc., the Birmingham, Ala.-based pizza and Italian restaurant franchising company.
Divine Serendipity LLC, a company led by Sellers, had previously won a bid to acquire the bankrupt confectioner. Sellers was unable to get his financing in order, so Judge Mary D. France of the U.S. Middle District Court of Pennsylvania signed off last week on Lancaster County-based Food Management Systems' $1 million offer to buy the company, approving a request by lawyers representing Wolfgang and M&T Bank, its principal creditor.
Sellers expressed disappointment in the decision but says he is moving on.
"We made a good effort at it," Sellers said Tuesday in an interview in Birmingham.
A veteran businessman with a mixed track record, Sellers had skeptics in 2006 when he bought Pasquale's Pizza and Pasta, a chain with a nostalgic name, and vowed to aggressively expand it from 25 locations at the time to 1,200 locations across the country within five years.
Sellers and his partners had claimed they would invest $30 million to expand the chain into a national brand through a strategy critics said was too ambitious.
Six years later, instead of 1,200 eateries, Pasquale's has 23 locations in six states — Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Mississippi. Sellers said Pasquale's is doing well (with $23 million in sales combined last year) and has been well received in its markets.
The expansion didn't happen, Sellers says, because of bad timing and the Great Recession that occurred shortly after he bought the chain.
"Right after I bought the company, cheese prices doubled, which, of course, affects the pizza business," Sellers said. "And a hedge fund that had invested in us got caught up in the bad economy."
A native of Lithia Springs, Ga., Sellers said he began his career as a broadcast engineer for Jefferson Pilot Communications in Georgia before moving to Birmingham to be closer to his father's hometown of Dora, a suburb. At age 29, he began Birmingham Baking Co., a bakery that he built into a multimillion-dollar business by supplying cakes to several grocery stores.
But the bankruptcy of a major client, Bruno's Supermarkets, caused his company to suffer financially, and he was forced to sell it.
Sellers bounced back, teaming with a group of investors to buy Pasquale's in 2006.
Sellers has returned to Alabama after spending three weeks in York County trying to salvage the Wolfgang deal. Now he says he is ready to concentrate on growing Pasquale's.
On Tuesday, he was driving to Montevallo, a small town in Shelby County about 30 miles from Birmingham, where he is in negotiations to buy a building that would house a Pasquale's restaurant. The site is outside the University of Montevallo, giving it a built-in clientele of college students he says will make it work after others failed with two different restaurant concepts there.
"Pasquale's is a good brand, and people love the fact that we serve no alcohol and are closed on Sundays so employees can spend time serving the Lord," Sellers said. "I want to grow the business and am excited about the future."