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PORTLAND-Portland restaurateurs Bill McCormick and Doug Schmick have bought back their chain of seafood restaurants they sold four years ago to Apple South, now struggling as Avado Brands Inc. With the help of two New York-based investment banking firms–Castle Harlan Inc. and Bruckman, Rosser, Sherrill and Co. Inc.–the longtime duo paid $123.5 million for 34 McCormick & Schmick restaurants.

When it sold the chain four years ago, there were only 16 restaurants. Hiring McCormick and Schmick as managers, the sale allowed the duo to finance a rapid expansion while maintaining relative control of the product while also going public through the back door. Last year, the chain reported sales of $162.4 million, up about 30% from 1999′s $125.6 million.

The duo is now planning for the October opening of its 35th restaurant, this one in Boston. Others are planned for Hackensack, NJ; Orlando, FL; and Atlanta. McCormick and Schmick now have restaurants in 16 states, mostly under their own name.

Avado, meanwhile, is struggling, having posted a net loss of $1 million in the first quarter. The company’s share price stands at 61 cents today(Thursday, June 14), up from a 52-week low of 37.5 cents in March, but well below it’s 52-week high of $2.75 in July 2000.

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