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Kings Family Restaurants sold to California firm

| Friday, April 24, 2015, 2:27 p.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Kings Family Restaurants CEO Chris Whalen (left) and founder Hartley King show off some of the menu items featured at the restaurant in North Versailles on Thursday, March 6, 2014.

The Frownie Brownie's end is near.

The surly but popular dessert item will be cut from the menu at Kings Family Restaurants by a California private equity firm that purchased the iconic Western Pennsylvania chain for an undisclosed price.

San Diego-based Kelly Capital confirmed Friday that it is Kings' new owner. Besides a few other menu tweaks and some light remodeling within some of Kings' 30 stores, though, no major changes are expected, said Kelly spokeswoman Paige Gillingwater.

“They understand that there is deep heritage, deep Pittsburgh heritage and they don't want to change any of that,” Gillingwater said. “They're not changing it into a California brand. They want to build on the success it has had over the last 40 years”

The chain will keep the Kings name, she said, and there were no plans to close locations or lay off any of Kings' 1,500 employees.

Kings' spokeswoman Alana Bergamasco declined to discuss the deal, though she said it has “been a very busy and exciting time at Kings.”

“We're going through a lot right now,” Bergamasco said. “A positive change is happening but we're not ready to comment on it publicly or release any details.”

White Oak-based Kings was founded in 1967 by Hartley King, who remained the owner and an active manager up until the recent sale. The company had annual sales of $51 million in 2013, though the business stagnated in recent years. Kings tried to reinvigorate sales through marketing campaigns and new menu items such as pretzel buns and the famous Frownie Brownie.

The company has tried to portray a more fun image.

“We want to do things fresher, different and a lot more fun,” King, 81, told the Tribune-Review last year. “There's a perception that we're old and tired and kind of just hanging out there, but that's far from the truth.”

Kings once again is working to revamp its brand, Bergamasco said, though that effort is still in its infancy.

The menu changes have not been finalized, Gillingwater said. Diners should expect to see fresher and healthier items without straying too far from Kings' tradition.

“They're not going to change it over to sushi,” Gillingwater said. “We're going to build on the menu and add some new fresh and exciting items.”

Kelly's website said it invests in companies where it hopes to improve management over the long term and turn around operations. That includes both financially healthy and bankrupt companies.

Kelly's investments span a variety of industries, including health care, real estate, hospitality and retail. Most of its companies are in the West, although one — The Chateau Grand banquet facility — is in Lakewood, N.J.

Chris Fleisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7854 or cfleisher@tribweb.com.

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