Ellenos, a premium Greek yogurt maker, popped up in Pike Place Market five years ago by way of Australia, via Canada. Now the company wants to build a yogurt empire, and its factory in Georgetown, capable of producing 10,000 pounds of yogurt a day, isn’t big enough. Ellenos has raised $18 million from Los Angeles private equity investor Monogram Capital Partners to help fund its expansion.

A new Federal Way factory will be able to produce about 100,000 pounds of yogurt a day. At first the new capacity will be used to better fulfill orders from Northwest customers, who buy the product at more than 300 grocery stores and Ellenos retail stores, said Ellenos founder Constantinos Apostolopoulos. “Once we do that, we’ll look to take what we’ve built here with everyone, with this community, and then take it across the country,” Apostolopoulos said.

It’s a local business growth story with a very international beginning. Yvonne Klein, who used to work for Air Canada on a regular route between Vancouver, B.C., and Sydney, Australia, raved to husband Bob about the Greek yogurt she would eat there, eventually smuggling it home in larger and larger quantities. “She was bringing way too much home,” Bob Klein said.

Klein decided to go see about the Australian yogurt business. He had taken a produce stand in Pike Place Market and thought it would be an ideal location for a premium yogurt, he said. He cold-called Apostolopoulos, whose family immigrated to Australia in the 1960s and ran fast-food restaurants and made yogurt and cheese. But Klein didn’t hear back until 2011, when Apostolopoulos said he was ready to try his hand in a U.S. market that’s an order of magnitude larger than Australia.

It took another two years before Ellenos came together, starting with a 100-gallon vat in the Georgetown factory that Apostolopoulos and Klein built out themselves.  The name wasn’t decided until the night before they opened in summer 2013, Apostolopoulos said. It is a made-up word inspired by Hellenic — meaning Greek — and the first sound in the word Australia.

The business got a break when local Asian grocery store Uwajimaya agreed to give it space.  “An Australian making Greek yogurt, selling in a Japanese grocery store — and that’s pretty much how it took off,” Apostolopoulos said. The company has grown from four people — the Kleins, Apostolopoulos and his son, Alex — to 105 employees now.

The investment, brokered by Seattle investment bank Meridian Capital, gives Monogram a minority ownership stake in the business. The funding will help pay down debt related to the new factory, finance the planned expansion and hire more staff, Klein said.

Apostolopoulos said he’s looking forward to getting back to refining his family’s yogurt recipe and processes. “Partnering up with Monogram will free me up to get back to what I love doing,” he said.

Source: The Seattle Times


Just over a year after closing an initial round of funding with Monogram Capital, meat snack brand Country Archer announced today that it closed a second round with the private equity group. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The money will support sales and marketing efforts, as well as production, said Country Archer CEO and co-founder Eugene Kang. That production is more capital-intensive, Kang said, because unlike other emerging meat snack brands, which often use co-packers, Country Archer is a vertically integrated company that cuts, smokes and packages its own product.

“We looked at the runway here and, given the fact that we’ve been growing rather quickly… I think that we wanted to make sure that we were prepared financially for the next several years,” Kang said.”

Founded in 2011 with Kang’s aunt, Susan Kang, the company has seen impressive growth. Kang told NOSH that the brand has doubled business year over year for the past three years and is expected to more than double its sales in 2017. In a press release, Country Archer referenced SPINS data showing that the company recently surpassed KRAVE as the No. 1 jerky in the natural grocery channel, outpacing the next 15 brands combined in year-over-year dollar growth. The line is currently sold in about 10,000 Starbucks and recently entered 1,500 7-Eleven stores, bringing its total door count to 15,000.

Jared Stein, founder and partner at Monogram, told NOSH that this growth is part of the appeal for the fund.

“For us, finding great brands that have the ability to truly mean something to consumers over the long term is the single hardest piece of what we do,” Stein said, explaining his company’s reasons for reinvesting. “Ultimately, our proxy for the scalability of a brand with additional resources and professional support is really its velocity data at retail vis-à-vis competitors. I continue to be incredibly impressed by Country Archer’s performance in this regard and it has become clear to me that strategics in the space are now taking notice as well.”

Kang noted that Country Archer benefits from more than just the capital by working with the investment group. Greg Willsey, partner and head of operations at Monogram, was previously the CFO and COO at POM Wonderful, also a vertically integrated juice company. When considering investments, Kang said he sought out private equity groups that could provide strategic, first-hand experience to help Country Archer.

Country Archer has expanded its portfolio over the years, expanding from meat snacks to meat bars and, most recently, meat sticks. For its bars, the company tries to separate itself by emphasizing the higher amount of protein,leading them to be stocked in less traditional avenues such as vitamin stores and gyms, and carried by sports nutrition-focused distributor Europa Sports Products.

The company also aims to separate itself by emphasizing its longstanding heritage. Although the current iteration of the company only began in 2011 when Kang acquired the business, its previous life as a co-packer stretches back to 1977.

“The company has these deep roots,” Kang told NOSH “We’re not just a company that was born yesterday that decided to get into the space because KRAVE got sold to Hershey’s. We’ve got some heritage behind it, some culture behind it, some story behind it. There’s some authenticity to it.”

Source: Project Nosh

Kidfresh, the fast-growing brand of better-for-you frozen kids meals announced today that it has closed on its Series B equity round of funding led by Monogram Capital Partners, alongside existing institutional investors Emil Capital Partners and AccelFoods.

Founded by Matt Cohen and Gilles Deloux, two fathers frustrated by the lack of better-for-you food choices for their children, New York based Kidfresh has grown into a nationally distributed line of frozen meals. The Kidfresh platform offers a line of reinvented children’s favorite meals enriched with vegetables, made with wholesome ingredients and no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. This round of funding will be used to accelerate growth and continue to disrupt the category, expand the Kidfresh team, drive brand awareness and support its rapid expansion into new growth channels.

“We want children to have better food choices than we had as kids,” says Kidfresh Co-Founder Matt Cohen. “Today’s parents are saying no to processed foods and yes to nutritious and convenient meals for their children. We are creating a solution for them and a destination in the frozen food aisle. Monogram, Emil Capital and AccelFoods constitute the dream team for Kidfresh and are simply the best partners in the industry. We are thrilled!”

“We are incredibly excited to join the Kidfresh team,” said Monogram Founder and Partner Jared Stein.  “In today’s often crowded consumer landscape, Matt and Gilles have built a brand with a strong reason to exist in a category of frozen food that is starved for innovation.  At its core, Kidfresh is on an authentic mission to provide parents with food offerings that are equal parts healthy and convenient at an approachable price point. We believe the next generation of moms will increasingly look to Kidfresh as a trusted partner in feeding their families, and look forward to supporting the team in this exciting next phase of growth.”

As a Venture Capital firm focusing on the new American consumer and its desire and demand for ‘better and healthier choices’, Kidfresh has been a perfect fit for us since our first investment a few years ago,” commented Founding Partner Andreas Guldin. “And we are so excited to further support the vision, the brand and the exceptional management of Kidfresh on the journey to provide just better food and real solutions to consumers who care about what their families eat!”

AccelFoods Co-Founder and Managing Partner Jordan Gaspar added, “In partnering with Kidfresh, we see tremendous opportunity in investing behind a company that addresses an underserved market, children. As working moms, we have been looking for a platform focused on nutrition for young families since we launched AccelFoods. It is time for innovation in our children’s meal solutions. We look forward to supporting a banner year for Kidfresh as it continues its mission to transform the food that working parents offer their families.” The early-stage investment fund is known for curating innovative brands in food & beverage and positioning them for high growth.

About Kidfresh
Created by parents for parents with the help of pediatric nutritionists and top chefs, Kidfresh has grown from its initial concept store in New York City to become a pioneer in frozen kid’s meals packed with goodness and hidden vegetables. Kidfresh is the solution to today’s busy moms and parents that want convenient and better-for-you kid’s meal options, now available in over 9,000 grocery stores nationwide. For more information visit the Kidfresh website and follow @KidfreshFoods on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

About Monogram Capital Partners
Headquartered in Los Angeles, CA and founded in 2014, Monogram Capital focuses exclusively on investing in emerging consumer and retail brands through both minority growth and control transactions. The firm looks for opportunities to partner with founders and strong management teams, investing $5-30 million of equity per transaction. Kidfresh represents the firm’s seventh investment in three years.

About Emil Capital Partners
Headquartered in Greenwich, CT, and founded in 2012, Emil Capital Partners focuses on investing in early stage companies in the sector of consumer goods, internet enable services and  digital media. Since its inception, the fund has made 27 investments including key brands in their respective sectors like UBER, Cheribundi, Goodbelly, Chef’s Plate and Kidfresh. Emil Capital Partners has been rated numerous times as one of the most active investors in the space of consumer goods and continues to look for disruptive opportunities in changing “big food to good food”.

About AccelFoods
AccelFoods is an investment fund fueling innovation in the food and beverage industry with access, community, expertise, and infrastructure. The Fund works with founders to bridge the gap between their innovative thinking and the resources needed to scale to the highest levels of growth. To learn more please visit the AccelFoods website at:http://www.accelfoods.com.

Source: PR Newswire

PetSmart has agreed to make the biggest e-commerce acquisition in history, putting a deal in place to snatch up fast-growing pet food and product site Chewy.com for $3.35 billion, according to multiple sources familiar with the deal.

The deal is a huge one by any standard — bigger than Walmart’s $3.3 billion deal for Jet.com last year— and especially for a retail company like PetSmart, which was itself valued at only $8.7 billion when private equity investors took it over in 2015.

But Chewy.com has been one of the fastest-growing e-commerce sites on the planet, registering nearly $900 million in revenue last year, in what was only its fifth year in operation. The company had been a potential IPO candidate for this year or next, but was taken out by its brick-and-mortar competitor before that. It was not profitable last year.

Chewy was founded in 2011 by Ryan Cohen and Michael Day, and built a cult following for its excellent customer service, large selection and fast shipping. It had quietly raised at least $236 million in venture capital from investors including Volition Capital, T. Rowe Price and BlackRock.

Its under-the-radar status was probably aided by the fact that it was headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and not in a big e-commerce market like New York, Los Angeles or Seattle. But it did have a big name in the industry as chairman: Mark Vadon, who also co-founded Blue Nile and Zulily.

The deal seems like the type of bet-the-company acquisition by a traditional retailer that commerce-focused venture capitalists have been betting on for some time. While Walmart’s acquisition of Jet.com was a huge deal by e-commerce standards, it represented just a fraction of Walmart’s market value. Silicon Valley investors are surely hoping more will follow in PetSmart’s path, as brick-and-mortar retailers struggle to adapt to the impact of changing shopping behaviors.

PetSmart had announced its intention to acquire Chewy on Tuesday morning, but didn’t disclose a price. PetSmart is owned by a group of private equity investors led by BC Partners.

Source: Recode

Dig Inn, a 15-restaurant chain with locations in New York and Boston, is already a hit with healthy eaters. In both cities, you’re bound to see crowds lined up to get market plates any given day of the week.

With an average meal price of $10 and a focus on produce sourced from local farms, the chain aims to make simple, high-quality food available at a relatively affordable price.

Now Dig Inn has raised an additional $30 million in a Series D funding round led by AVALT. Other contributors to the round (its largest to date) include Monogram Capital Partners and Bill Allen, former CEO of OSI Restaurant Partners (which manages Outback Steakhouse).

The company had previously raised $21.5 million in earlier rounds of funding.

Dig Inn will use the new investment to launch more restaurants, open a culinary training school that’s free for employees, make key leadership hires, and build out its internal tech platform. The chain also plans to open 13 to 15 more locations in New York and Massachusetts by 2019, and expand to a third to-be-determined state in 2018, founder and CEO Adam Eskin tells Business Insider.

Source: Business Insider

Country Archer Jerky Co., one of the fastest growing brands in the premium beef jerky category, announced a minority growth investment by Monogram Capital Partners, a Los Angeles-based private equity firm focused on consumer and retail investments. The Monogram investment will enable Country Archer to accelerate nationwide distribution, expand its product offerings, and build upon its already strong consumer awareness and advocacy.

Founded by Eugene Kang and Susan Kang in 2011, Country Archer is known for its better-for-you ingredient deck and innovative and appealing flavors. “After surveying the category extensively, we determined that Country Archer’s product was uniquely differentiated. In addition to being one of the few self-manufactured brands on the market, and achieving the quality and supply chain controls that comes with that, Country Archer highlights an ingredient driven process that emphasizes grass fed beef and organic seasonings. We are extremely excited to partner with Eugene and Susan on this next phase of rapid growth,” says Monogram Co-Founder Jared Stein.

Over the past few years, the Company has been growing rapidly, roughly doubling its sales annually and expanding into new points of distribution nationwide. “We view Country Archer’s category leading growth metrics in both the natural and conventional channels as a sign of the customer identifying and enjoying a high quality product that has widespread, crossover appeal,” says Monogram Co-Founder Oliver Nordlinger.

With significant innovation in its product lines (including the recent launch of its grass-fed line and the forthcoming launch of its meat-based protein bar) and continued introduction of exciting new flavors, Country Archer is quickly becoming a tastemaker in the category. “As Founders, Eugene and Susan exhibit a special combination of great vision and the manufacturing capability to produce an expanding portfolio of great products under the Country Archer brand,” adds Greg Willsey, a Partner at Monogram who joined the firm after most recently serving as COO and CFO of POM Wonderful.

“In Monogram we saw a value-added partner who could help us execute on our vision and take Country Archer to the next level. Susan and I are extremely proud of the company we have built and believe strongly that this partnership will help us reach our full potential,” commented Country Archer Founder Eugene Kang.

About Country Archer Jerky Co. 

Headquartered in San Bernardino, CA, Country Archer has a rich thirty year heritage as a premium jerky manufacturer. Founders Eugene and Susan Kang purchased the business in 2011 to bring this high quality product to the masses. Country Archer manufactures its own line of artisanal jerky products using grass-fed proteins and organic ingredients and absolutely no artificial preservatives. The company focuses on developing original flavors with widespread appeal, such as Sriracha, Sweet Jalapeno, and Hickory Smoke.

About Monogram Capital Partners 

Headquartered in Los Angeles, CA and founded in 2014, Monogram Capital focuses exclusively on investing in emerging consumer and retail brands through both minority growth and control transactions. The firm looks for opportunities to partner with founders and strong management teams, investing $5-30 million per transaction. Country Archer represents the firm’s fourth platform investment in two years.

Source: PE Hub

The fast-casual Pizza Studio chain has completed a strategic investment round led by institutional foodservice contractor Thompson Hospitality, which will also become the brand’s largest franchise operator, officials said Wednesday.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Thompson will hold a minority stake in the Calabasas, Calif.-based pizza chain as a result, said Samit Varma, Pizza Studio co-founder and co-CEO.

Warren Thompson, chairman and CEO of Reston, Va.-based Thompson Hospitality, will join Pizza Studio’s board of directors.

As part of the deal, Thompson has also committed to opening 80 Pizza Studio locations, including 40 in the Washington, D.C., area and another 40 on college campuses, airports, hospitals and other nontraditional locations, mostly in the Eastern U.S.

Thompson Hospitality is the seventh largest foodservice company in the U.S., with a diverse mix of institutional accounts in 46 states and internationally, Thompson said. The firm also has a strategic partnership with global foodservice giant Compass Group.

In addition, Thompson Hospitality owns and operates a number of restaurant brands, including Austin Grill, American Tap Room, BRB Burger and Willie T’s Lobster Shack.

Although the firm is also a Pizza Hut franchisee on some college campuses, Thompson said the investment brings a fast-casual pizza brand into the company’s portfolio.

After looking to invest in the right fast-casual pizza brand for about five years, Thompson said he was impressed by the vision of Pizza Studio’s founders.

“The balance of quality and ease of execution made it something we really wanted to do,” Thompson said. “This format of pizza will work very well in airports because of the speed of delivery, the simplicity of it, and the fact that it allows customers to have it their way.”

The move into nontraditional locations could offer a significant boost for Pizza Studio, which, with 33 units, is racing to catch up to larger players within the rapidly growing fast-casual pizza space, where chains like Blaze Pizza, Pieology and MOD Pizza are nearing the 100-unit mark.

Pizza Studio, however, has the advantage of using a ventless conveyor oven, which gives the brand more flexibility in location, Varma said.

The ovens also cook the thin-crust pizzas in minutes, allowing for fast throughput and a more consistent product, he said.

“In environments where there is a large lunch rush, like college campuses and airports, we perform very well,” Varma said.

Like other fast-casual pizza players, Pizza Studio offers a build-your-own-pizza format.

Unlike most others, however, customers can choose from among several crust flavors, from rosemary herb to the spicy “firecracker,” as well as choosing sauces, toppings and cheeses.

The chain plans to “make a big splash” on college campuses in particular, where the brand will join dining hall options alongside nationally recognized brands like Chick-fil-A, he said. “This will be a great introduction of our brand to a large audience.”

Within the next six months, the brand will open on five or six campuses, probably in Maryland, Varma said. Pizza Studio already has a location near Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, so the brand will be familiar there, he said.

Currently, Pizza Studio is in some mall locations and can go as small as 200 square feet as a kiosk. One of the chain’s smallest units in a downtown Los Angeles food court is about 750 square feet, including back of the house and queue line, and averages more than $1 million in annual sales, Varma said.

This year, Pizza Studio has three more units scheduled to open, with another 60 on deck for 2016. Of the 33 units open, seven are company owned, he said.

Source: Nation’s Restaurant News

Two former executives from Golden Gate Capital and Leonard Green & Partners have founded Monogram Capital Partners.

The Los Angeles-based private equity firm is led by Jared Stein and Oliver Nordlinger. Stein left Golden Gate, where he was a VP, in early 2014 to start Monogram, while Nordlinger, who was a Leonard Green VP, departed at roughly the same time.

Stein said Monogram is “extremely busy” and may need to add an associate in the next year. The firm has already completed two deals and plans to do two or three more.

“Then, potentially, we’ll go out and raise a traditional fund,” Stein said. However, there is no pressure on the firm to raise immediate capital, he said.

Monogram is what Stein calls a “pledge fund.” It raises capital on a deal-by-deal basis from five family offices that it has an ongoing relationship with. Stein and Nordlinger are paid an undisclosed management fee and performance-based carry by the family offices. Stein and his partner also invest their own capital in each deal.

The lower middle-market private equity firm focuses sectors such as apparel and accessories, beauty and personal care, companion animal and consumer healthcare. It will invest anywhere from $5 million to $30 million equity per deal, Stein said.

The firm plans to prove its strategy of investing in consumer retail and finding brands that have a strong customer base. It has already done two deals. On Jan. 20, Monogram and Michael Marks, a Riverwood Capital founding partner, took part in a $15 million Series C round for Dig Inn of New York. Existing investors, including Wexford Capital and Law360 co-founder Magnus Hoglund, also participated, a Dig Inn spokeswoman said.

Monogram has a minority stake in Dig Inn, Stein said. The restaurant chain offers “farm to counter” fresh food, such as grilled steak salads and a “Cluk ‘n’ Kale” sandwich, at prices of $10 to $11 a plate, Stein said.

Monogram is also a backer of Pizza Studio of Calabasas, Calif. The fast-casual restaurant is known for offering thin-crust pizza with unlimited toppings that are competitively priced. An 11-inch pizza starts at $6.99 to $7.99, according to the Pizza Studio website.

The California startup is succeeding in the saturated pizza market, Business Insider said. Pizza Studio has 25 locations, up from three when Monogram invested in the company in February 2014. Revenue for the company jumped to $11.5 million in 2014 from $2.5 million the year before, Forbes reported.

Finding deals was probably easier for Stein and Nordliner than picking a name for their new firm. They went through the names of Greek Gods as well as flowers and “nothing was inspiring,” Stein said. After they played around with their initials, “It sort of clicked that if you put our initials together that it’s your monogram and that is the stamp of a brand,” he said.

Source: Thomson Reuters PE Hub

Ten-outlet New York City restaurant chain Dig Inn has raised $15 million. Who knew sweet potatoes, beets, and kale could be so lucrative?

Farm-to-table restaurant chain Dig Inn Seasonal Market has raised $15 million in its Series C round, bringing its total funding to $21.5 million since launching in 2011.

The round was led by Wexford Capital, with other other participants including Monogram Capital Partners, founding partner of Riverwood Capital Michael Marks, and existing investor Magnus Hoglund, founder of Law360. Dig Inn founder and CEO Adam Eskin was once a private equity associate at Wexford Capital.

Most of the investment will go toward expanding the 10-restaurant chain, which has some $35 million in annual sales. The company plans to open another five to seven restaurants in 2015, including its first outside New York City. Eskin thinks Dig Inn has the potential to eventually go national, but its next market will be on the East Coast for logistical reasons.

About 70% of the chain’s menu consists of vegetables, but the concept stands apart from the plethora of salad chains because Dig Inn specializes in cooked vegetables. “People are getting more comfortable with the idea that meat doesn’t need to be at the center of the plate,” Eskin says, pointing to trends like Meatless Monday and Michelin chefs launching all or mostly vegetable-based menus.

The No. 1 vegetable sold at Dig Inn in 2014 was sweet potatoes (230,292 pounds), with beets the runner up at 217,435 pounds. Kale scored a respectable third (174,708 pounds).

“There’s a lot more than you can do with Brussels sprouts”—tied with red onions at No. 4 with at 162,550 pounds—“relative to how people used to think about it way back when,” he says. “The level of culinary innovation is making vegetables more mainstream.”

Dig Inn is trying to anticipate the challenges that will come with scaling a concept focused on sustainable and local food. It’s an issue that’s top of mind in the industry as Chipotle last week stopped selling pork in about a third of its U.S. restaurants after discovering that one of its suppliers was not complying with the Mexican food chain’s animal-care standards.

Dig Inn has brought in a sourcing manager who was previously a farmer and is building direct relationships with suppliers from the start rather than going through middlemen. Eskin says that’s unusual for a company of Dig Inn’s size. “We’re doing that at a much earlier stage,” he adds.

Eskin is capitalizing on a shift in consumers who want healthier food that’s better for the environment but still accessibly priced (the average check at Dig Inn is $10). “We think given where the world is headed that we have a more viable product,” Eskin says.

He believes the investment interest stems from the size of the $700 billion restaurant industry, compounded by the level of disruption that’s going on in the sector. “The incumbent folks are either going to go away, shrink, or pivot in some way,” Eskin explains. That’s resulted in growth and funding for Dig Inn and other chains with similar values like Sweetgreen, which landed $18.5 million in funding in November.

In addition to expansion, the latest round of Dig Inn’s funding will also in part go toward exploring food tech, which Eskin says has boomed over the last 18 months. “Food has become the new technology sector,” he notes. Companies like Blue Apron, Sprig, and Munchery are figuring out how to deliver high-quality food to people very quickly, and these ventures changed Eskin’s assumptions that food delivery was strictly a New York City phenomenon. The Dig Inn team is investigating whether it should start its own service or partner with an existing one.

“Restaurants will always be our core business,” Eskin says, “but I think it would be a mistake not to be mindful of how the landscape is changing.”

Source: Fortune