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West Coast firm to buy Boston restaurant group

By Jenn Abelson
Globe Staff / January 5, 2011

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The Back Bay Restaurant Group, with popular dining spots such as Joe’s American Bar & Grill and Abe & Louie’s, has agreed to sell its assets to a California firm, Tavistock Restaurants LLC.

Tavistock Restaurants, part of a privately held investment company, is looking to take on all 33 restaurants that operate under six brands: Abe & Louie’s, Atlantic Fish, Charley’s, Coach Grill, Joe’s American Bar & Grill, and Papa Razzi, according to Amy Daniels, a spokeswoman for the Back Bay Restaurant Group.

“This is by no means a done deal, but we’ve long been mutual admirers of each other. Of all the restaurant groups out there, we know that Tavistock Restaurants has the same passion for great foods and great service,’’ said Charles F. Sarkis, founder of Back Bay Restaurant Group. “They want to be in this market and retain our employees. We’re hopeful this deal goes through. There are still many terms to be worked out.’’

The deal, which is expected to close by the end of February, will bring an end to Sarkis’s almost half-century reign over some of the Back Bay’s pre mier dining destinations.

Abe & Louie’s was ranked as the highest grossing restaurant in New England with annual sales of close to $15 million in the 2010 Restaurant & Institutions Magazine.

Sarkis has continued to oversee the company despite a 15-year battle with brain cancer.

Sarkis “is confident that Tavistock Restaurants is in line with our core values and will be able to continue his legacy of providing quality food and exceptional hospitality,’’ Daniels said.

“And while [Sarkis’s] health improves every day, this decision will allow him to focus on his continued recovery.’’

Tavistock Restaurants, which runs chains such as Napa Valley Grille, California Cafe, and Blackhawk Grille, could not be reached for comment late yesterday.

Daniels said the California company has expressed interest in keeping the Back Bay Restaurant Group’s roughly 4,000 employees, who work in Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Washington, D.C. About 65 percent of the workers are located in Massachusetts.

Daniels said she did not have terms of the deal. But the estimated value of the agreement is roughly $50 million, according to a person briefed on the matter.

Several people with knowledge of the discussions said there is talk that another company may take over the Papa Razzi chain and Tavistock would keep the other five brands in its portfolio.

Sarkis also owns three of the Back Bay buildings that house some of his restaurants. He will keep ownership of the buildings for Abe & Louie’s, Atlantic Fish, and Papa Razzi.

Tavistock has eyed the Boston market for several years and had planned at one point to open ZED 451, a high-end restaurant, on the waterfront at the former Jimmy’s Harborside Restaurant.