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Judge OK’s Friendly’s sale to affiliate of chain owner

A bankruptcy judge in Delaware yesterday approved the sale of Friendly Ice Cream Corp. to an affiliate of the restaurant chain’s owner, Sun Capital Partners Inc.

The decision leaves Sun Capital, a buyout firm in Boca Raton, Fla., in control of the company. Laura Davis Jones, a lawyer for Friendly’s, confirmed the ruling in an e-mail yesterday, saying only “sale approved.’’

In a statement, Sun Capital said, “We are pleased to be in a position to regain ownership of Friendly’s, and are confident that the company will now be better positioned for future growth.’’

In its own statement, Friendly’s said: “Today’s approval of the sale of Friendly’s to an affiliate of Sun Capital Partners is an important milestone in the company’s restructuring. It puts us on course to complete the process in less than four months and emerge from bankruptcy in early January.’’

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The decision, by Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross, comes about a week after Friendly’s canceled an auction because the Wilbraham company had not received any bids to compete with the $75 million offer made by the Sun Capital affiliate.

Sun Capital bought Friendly’s for $337.2 million in 2007. The family-oriented chain filed for bankruptcy protection in October, closing more than 60 stores overnight and saying it had been a victim of a challenging economy, rising supply costs, and changing customer preferences.

At the time, Sun Capital indicated it hoped to hang onto the chain by setting up an affiliate to act as a stalking horse to buy Friendly’s out of bankruptcy.

Friendly’s began as a neighborhood ice cream shop in 1935, when it was founded in Springfield by brothers Curtis and Prestley Blake as a way for them to stay out of trouble. Over the next four decades the business grew to more than 600 restaurants known for serving good burgers, a super thick shake known as the Fribble, and other comfort foods.

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The chain, however, has struggled to compete in recent years against casual dining outlets, such as T.G.I. Friday’s, that serve alcohol or against outlets like Panera Bread, which cater to diners looking for fresher food served fast.


Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.