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Macaroni Grill owner sells majority stake in restaurant

NEW YORK - Brinker International Inc., the owner of the Chili's Grill & Bar chain, said Monday it will sell a majority stake in Romano's Macaroni Grill to a private equity firm.

Under the agreement, Brinker will sell most of its stake to Mac Acquisition LLC - a unit of San Francisco-based Golden Gate Capital - for $131.5 million in cash. Brinker will then turn over $6 million to Mac Acquisition to hold onto a 19.9 percent stake in the brand.

'Brinker International will retain a minority ownership position in order to both maximize the value to Brinker's shareholders and contribute to the success of Macaroni Grill as a stand-alone entity,' Brinker Chief Executive Doug Brooks said in a statement.

Investors were largely expecting the sale, so the shares were little moved Monday - dipping 2 cents to $20.77 in midday trading.

When the company said earlier this month it was in talks with a buyer to sell its majority interest, some analysts were disappointed Brinker was not getting rid of the entire chain of more than 220 locations - as the company had originally planned.

In its last quarter, same-store sales at Macaroni Grill fell 5.7 percent. Same-store sales at Chili's, meanwhile, rose 3.4 percent. Same-store sales are a key indicator of restaurant performance since they measures growth at existing locations rather than newly opened ones.

Most restaurants have struggled to keep sales growing as consumers cut back on discretionary spending to have money for the gas pump or the grocery store.