9 Burger Kings in Montana have a new owner

2014-03-17T17:15:00Z 2014-03-21T14:41:08Z 9 Burger Kings in Montana have a new ownerBy JAN FALSTAD jfalstad@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Meridian Restaurants of Ogden, Utah, has purchased nine Montana Burger King restaurants in a deal that closed Monday morning.

Meridian owners David and Blayne Harper bought four Burger Kings in Billings, one in Lockwood and four in Western Montana, including two in Missoula and one each in Columbia Falls and Kalispell.

Remodeling the older-style Burger Kings into the chain’s latest prototype will start this year, Blayne Harper said, although she declined to give a date for finishing the remakes.

“We’re going to be putting a lot of resources into them. We’ll be adding some inside playgrounds,” she said.

This is the first business venture in Montana for the Harpers, who have been in the restaurant business for 30 years and now own 38 Burger Kings in Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

“We’re extremely happy to be in Montana. We’re anxious to show how Burger Kings should look and how business should be done and to treat the customers right,” she said.

David Harper lived in Cody, Wyo., for three years during his teens.

"Montana is like coming home for me. We used to come to Billings all the time when we lived in Cody because there wasn't an airport there yet," he said.

Meridian Restaurants bought the Montana properties from King Of The Mountain LLC, a Scottsdale, Ariz., company that also is privately owned. The Arizona company owned the nine Burger Kings for about seven years, Blayne Harper said. King of the Mountain's owner was not immediately available for comment.

David Harper said the previous owner just decided to move on to other business ventures.

Negotiating the deal in Montana took about nine months, he said. No price was disclosed, but Blayne Harper said it was in the millions.

“It’s not cheap to own a national franchise, much less nine of them,” she said. “The remodels themselves will cost a lot, along with the training.”

About 300 employees work at the nine restaurants. They have been rehired with their current pay and benefits continued, Blayne Harper said.

The Harpers spent Monday in Columbia Falls visiting that restaurant and then planned on heading for Billings.

Store managers in Billings spent Sunday doing inventory and verifying funds in advance of the sale. Cash registers were being swapped out Monday morning at the Burger King at North 27th Street just south of Sixth Street North.

The purchase does not include the newest and sixth Billings Burger King at 1438 Grand Ave. That property, which opened in January, is owned by former Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg, his wife, Jan Rehberg, and another relative. The Rehbergs said they plan to build three more Burger Kings in Montana this year.

In 2011, the Laurel Burger King closed after two decades. David Harper said if their efforts to revitalize nine of about 20 Montana Burger Kings goes well, they might expand again.

"If we see a response to our efforts, we'll look at other options, including opening one in Laurel," he said.

The Harpers purchased the Lockwood Burger King at 2813 Old Hardin Road and four in Billings at 520 N. 27th St.; 790 King Park Dr.; 4780 King Ave. E.; and 820 Main St.

Stock in Burger King, now the second-largest burger chain, has surged about 36 percent since August and is trading at record highs around $27.34 per share, according to The Wall Street Journal. Rival McDonald's stock has risen 2.4 percent since last fall.

Last September, Burger King launched “Satisfries,” fries with 40 percent less fat and 30 percent fewer calories. The restaurant is adding more lean chicken options, as well.

But in 2012, Burger King added a high-calorie burger stuffed with bacon, cheddar cheese and onion rings. The move was apparently designed to attract younger males who frequently eat at fast-food chains.

The chain that started selling Whoppers 58 years ago now operates more than 13,000 restaurants in 97 countries and territories. Last year, the Home of the Whopper opened 408 more restaurants worldwide and almost all are independently owned, according to company financial statements.

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