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OAK BROOK, IL-Stir Crazy Inc. has sold its locally based nine-unit Asian restaurant chain to the Walnut Private Equity Fund, a division of the Cincinnati-based Walnut Group. A spokeswoman for the new ownership declined to disclose the purchase price to GSR.

However, the new owners, Fred Mayerson, chairman, and James Gould, managing general partner of the Walnut Group, have raised $25 million to acquire and expand the business. They plan to grow the chain to 50 units within the next three to five years.

Gary Leff opened the first Stir Crazy here in 1995. As CEO, he expanded to four Chicago-area units and additional ones in West Nyack, NY; Auburn Hills, MI; Lyndhurst, OH; Creve Coeur, MO and Boca Raton. Funding for the Stir Crazy buyout includes $20 million in private equity from a slew of former and current Walnut Group investors and $5 million in loans from US Bank.

Mayerson and his partners acquired Minneapolis-based Chi Chi’s in the early 1980s and grew it from a single Mexican concept restaurant to a chain of more than 200 units. The group later sold the then-thriving chain, and it closed in 2004, following an outbreak of hepatitis that was found to emanate from tainted scallions. Mayerson’s previous forays into the restaurant business include Pinon’s, a fine dining restaurant in Aspen, which he helped found 19 years ago and is still in operation.

Gould partnered with Maxine Clark in the national expansion of the Build-A-Bear Workshop. Jeffrey Anderson, the developer of Rookwood Pavilion in Norwood, OH, and one of Mayerson’s original partners in Chi Chi’s, is also a member of the new Stir Crazy team.

The first new Stir Crazy is scheduled to open next year in a new lifestyle center to be unveiled by Anderson in Pembroke, FL. The restaurant will use a new 6,000-sf prototype. Expansion will continue to build on a base throughout Florida, then extend northward along the East Coast and into the Midwest. There will also be a Stir Crazy in the Greater Cincinnati market, Mayerson says in a statement.

The Stir Crazy concept brings the chef to the table, and patrons choose from a menu of Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese ingredients to create their own order. Managers “give you a big hug when you come in, and you get good food at a great value,” according to Mayerson. In a statement, he calls the concept “a potential category killer that appeals to the masses and has a special energy to it. Everything that I’ve done before is now a prelude to this.” GSR was unable to reach Mayerson by deadline.

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