M&A wrap: Danu, Smith & Wollensky, Strega, Blackstone, Lakeview, M&A Mid-Market Award Nominations, What's ahead for 2020

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Irish invesment firm Danu Partners has acquired upscale Italian restaurant operator the Strega Group from the Varano Group. Danu owns steakhouse chain Smith & Wollensky which it purchased in 2016. As a result of the deal, Danu has formed a new restaurant company called PPX Hospitality Brands. The latter will manage Smith & Wollensky and Strega. “Following the successful acquisition of the Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group in 2016, the acquisition of The Strega Group is an attractive opportunity to add highly complementary Boston-based operating businesses to our hospitality portfolio,” says Danu co-founder Leonard Ryan. In addition to PPX, Danu's other hospitality investment is the Mercantile Group, which operates a group of restaurants, bars and hotels along with a nightclub and a music venue in Dublin. Strega's restaurant group includes Strega Waterfront, Strip by Strega and Strega Prime, as well as several cafés and a catering business that are all in and around Boston. “The Strega brand was built by my passion and determination to add to Boston's outstanding culinary scene over the past 17 years and to have this opportunity to pass on the Strega experience to a company like Danu Partners is an incredible opportunity,"adds Varano Group founder Nick Varano.

Mergers & Acquisitions has opened up the nomination process for the 13th Annual M&A Mid-Market Awards, which will honor leading dealmakers and deals that set the standard for transactions in the middle market in 2019. Last year’s winners included: Hollie Haynes, who took home Dealmaker of the Year for raising a second fund for Luminate Capital Partners. Nominations are accepted only through our electronic forms. The deadline is Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. There is no fee. For more information on the nomination process and what we seek in winning candidates, see Call for nominations: Submissions for the M&A Mid-Market Awards due Feb. 7.

DEAL NEWS
Blackstone Group Inc. (NYSE: BX) saw a record fundraising haul in 2019, as investors continue to hunt for returns in a low-yield environment. Steve Schwarzman’s firm took in $26 billion in the fourth quarter, contributing to a full-year haul of $134.4 billion. Assets under management climbed to $571.1 billion, also a record. The New York-based firm is bringing in flows much faster than it can use the capital, highlighting a conundrum for many alternative asset managers. Read the full story by Bloomberg News: Blackstone sees record fundraising haul of $134 billion.

AMN Healthcare Services Inc. (NYSE: AMN) is buying Stratus Video from Kinderhook Industries for $475 million. Stratus is a provider of video remote language interpretation services for the healthcare industry. Evercore and Kirkland & Ellis are advising Stratus. J.P. Morgan (NYSE: JPM) and Sheppard Mullin are advising AMN.

Lakeview Capital has bought ice cream maker The Mochi Ice Cream Co. from Century Park Capital Partners. Plante Moran and Ropes & Gray advised Lakeview. Houlihan Lokey (NYSE: HLI) and Winston & Strawn advised Century Park. Financing was provided by LBC Credit Partners, PineBridge Investments and WhiteHorse Capital.

Frontenac Co.-backed Whitebridge Pet Brands has acquired Cardinal Laboratories. The target owns the Pet Botanics, Crazy Dog, Full Life for Pets, Remedy+Recovery, Gold Medal and Pets and Only Healthy Source pet care brands.

Kian Capital Partners has invested in IT managed service providers Enterprise Computing Services and My_IT and merged the two companies. Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson P.A. advised Kian.

Orix Capital Partners-backed RoadSafe Traffic Systems has purchased A Cone Zone, a maker road and traffic safety products.

DEAL TRENDS
About 25 percent of middle-market CFOs plans to pursue M&A in 2020, according to BDO’s 2020 BDO Middle Market CFO Outlook Survey. When it comes to specific sectors, 60 percent of tech CFOs prefer PE deals instead of IPOs; 28 percent of restaurant CFOs; 22 percent of healthcare and 22 percent of manufacturing CFOs cite M&A as a top strategy for growth in 2020. The survey interview about 700 middle-market CFOs.

Riata Capital Group-backed Acuity Eyecare Group has recently completed 12 acquisitions in 4 states, totaling 22 practices. AEG now owns and operates around 140 practices across 11 states, and has another 30 practices under letter of intent. In 2019, the company closed 30 acquisitions, representing 60 practices. Acuity also said that it is changing its name to AEG Vision.

PEOPLE MOVES
Franklin Staley was hired by Partriot Capital Group to lead the investment firm's lower middle-market buyout strategy. Staley was most recently with DC Advisory.

Jordan Tongalson was promoted to managing director, business development at private equity firm Littlejohn & Co. The firm also promoted Robert Creighton and Bart Stout to principal; Aaron Wasserman and Jack Wigdale to vice president; and Kaitlyn Marcinek to controller.

Rachel Pugliese and Brian Mahoney were promoted to partner at law firm Nixon Peabody. Pugliese focuses on M&A and private equity, while Mahoney concentrates on tax matters related to M&A.

Christophe Villemin has joined investment firm Searchlight Capital Partners as a senior advisor. Villemin, who focuses on the industrials sector, was previously an operating partner at Apollo Management (NYSE: APO).

FEATURED CONTENT
If there’s anything M&A professionals dislike, it’s uncertainty. And heading into 2020, there’s more than enough uncertainty to go around, including questions about the economy, international trade, impeachment, domestic politics and more. The funny thing is, the lack of clarity may actually make the first half of the year a great time for M&A, as dealmakers push to close transactions before the looming uncertainty of Election Day and its outcome. We conducted interviews with 8 investment bankers and other M&A advisors. Some said the first half of the year will be robust, while others said the uncertainty may have a negative impact throughout 2020. Read the full story, What’s ahead for M&A in 2020? We ask 8 advisors.

Mergers & Acquisitions has named the 2020 Most Influential Women in Mid-Market M&A. This marks the fifth year we have produced the list, which recognizes female leaders with significant influence inside their companies and in the wider dealmaking world. It’s been gratifying to watch the project evolve over the years – and become more influential itself. This year, we received more nominations than ever before. As a result, we expanded the number honored to 42 in 2020, up from 36 in 2019. Many dealmakers are new to our list, including Rockwood Equity Partners' Kate Faust, William Blair's Shay Brokemond and Avante Capital Partners' Ivelisse Simon. Read our full coverage of all the champions of change on our list, including Q&As with each individual.

Mergers & Acquisitions examines the impact of 7 technologies on M&A in the retail sector. Read the whole series:

Overview: Retail Tech M&A: 7 Technologies Driving Change
Retail Tech M&A #1: Nike, McDonald's, PayPal, add customization, IoT
Retail Tech M&A #2: Why Walmart and other retailers are buying artificial intelligence startups
Retail Tech M&A #3: Amazon leads race to build fulfillment centers
Retail Tech M&A #4: Do robots fill orders faster?
Retail Tech M&A #5: Voice recognition gives retailers more ways to communicate
Retail Tech M&A #6: Data improves customer service
Retail Tech M&A #7: Demand for convenience drives growth in mobile ordering

To celebrate deals, dealmakers and dealmaking firms, Mergers & Acquisitions produces three special reports every year: the M&A Mid-Market Awards; the Rising Stars of Private Equity; and the Most s for each, see Special reports overview: M&A Mid-Market Awards, Rising Stars, Most Influential Women.

EVENTS
ACG New York is hosting the 12th annual healthcare conference and bourbon tasting at the Metropolitan Club in New York on Feb. 27.

ACG Raleigh Durham's 18th annual capital conference is being from March 31-April 1 at the Raleigh Marriott Crabtree Hotel in Raleigh, North Carolina.

InterGrowth 2020 is taking place at the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas from April 20-22.

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