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COSTA MESA, CA-A private-equity firm has invested $45 million in chicken-restaurant chain El Pollo Loco. The investment, from Los Angeles-based Freeman Spogli & Co. will go toward store expansion and “general corporate purposes,” says El Pollo Loco’s management in a statement.

The chain currently has 389 restaurants, mostly in California, as well as Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Colorado, Illinois, Georgia, Connecticut and Massachusetts. The company operates 159 units and the rest are franchised.

The company statement did not say how many locations it plans to open as a result of the Freeman investment. Earlier this month El Pollo Loco opened its fifth Georgia location, and management says it plans to open 50 units in the Atlanta area alone.

In a GSR interview early this year , company CEO Steve Carley said that the chain plans to open 40 new restaurants in 2008 and 150 over the next five years. “We’re successfully finding franchise partners across the country who have extraordinary depths of experience operationally, in construction and in real estate development,” he said at the time.

El Pollo Loco, Spanish for “The Crazy Chicken” was founded in Guasave, Mexico in 1975. The concept is owned by private-equity firm Trimaran Capital Partners, which bought the chain in 2005.

Freeman has invested in Petco, Sur La Table and other retail companies. The firm has invested $2.5 billion in 42 companies since 1983.

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