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    eatZi's Expanding Following Acquisition

    Independent financing to facilitate growth nationwide, former Thornton Oil CEO among investors.

    DALLAS -- An investment group led by eatZi's Market & Bakery founder Philip Romano and Boston-based Castanea Partners closed on the acquisition of eatZi's from Brinker International and promised to put the marketing company on the growth fast track.

    Romano developed eatZi's in 1996 as a joint venture with Brinker. He will serve as co-chief executive officer and assume a position on eatZi's board. Joining Romano as lead investor in the transaction is Castanea Partners, a private equity investment firm founded and capitalized by Robert Smith and Brian Knez, former chief executives publishing group Harcourt General and The Neiman Marcus Group, respectively.

    "Rob and Brian are bringing more than money to this transaction," Romano said. "Their knowledge and operating experience with upscale specialty retail brands such as Neiman Marcus and Kate Spade will be invaluable as we grow and refine the eatZi's concept."

    Several other individual investors are joining Romano and Castanea Partners, including Richard Claes, former president and CEO of Thornton Oil Corp. Claes helped build the Louisville, Ky.-based convenience store chain to more than 150 units with nearly $1 billion in annual revenue. Claes will also serve as co-chief executive and as a board member. The company's chief operating officer, Diana Fair, will assume the additional position of President. Fair will continue to lead operations and culinary research and development for the company.

    "Rick Claes will be instrumental in bringing eatZi's to the next level with his experience in building and operating a multi unit retail operation. We now have the experience, leadership and capital to enable eatZi's to build on its position as the leader in the restaurant meal replacement category," Romano said.

    Claes indicated that the company's expansion plans include building more than thirty stores over the next five years in existing markets and other major metropolitan markets throughout the United States.

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