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Cara Operations announces plan to acquire Fairfax's restaurant holdings

VAUGHAN, Ont. – Two major Canadian restaurant companies operating under banners such as East Side Mario’s, Casey’s, Swiss Chalet and Harvey’s will merge under the same ownership in a deal announced Thursday.

Cara Operations said it will take over Prime Restaurants in a deal done with Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. (TSX:FFH).

Cara is a 125-year-old food services company that owns Swiss Chalet, Harvey’s hamburger chain and full-service dining restaurants including Milestones Grill & Bar, Montana’s Cookhouse, and Kelsey’s Neighbourhood Bar & Grill.

Prime’s banners include East Side Mario’s, Casey’s, Fionn MacCool’s and Bier Markt.

Toronto-based Fairfax acquired Prime two years ago for about $71 million after outbidding Cara, a private company controlled for more than a century by the Phelan family.

The deal between Fairfax and Cara was disclosed as a strategic financing transaction but dollar values and other details weren’t disclosed in the announcement.

The announcement Thursday appears in line with reports that Cara and Fairfax were working on a deal that would combine the two restaurant businesses, with Bill Gregson as the new president and CEO. Gregson was formerly the executive chairman of The Brick.

John A. Rothschild will continue as CEO of Prime and be executive vice-chairman of Cara’s board.

The interim chairman of Cara’s board, Michael Norris, said in a statement that the deal will leverage Fairfax’s financial heft, Cara’s size and expertise and Prime’s brands.

“Strategically, this broadens our offering to Canadian families, and moves us further towards our vision of becoming the undisputed leader of the restaurant industry in Canada,” Rothschild said in a statement.