Greene Turtle Owners Sell Majority Share Of Corporation

OCEAN CITY – A landmark Ocean City business that began over 30 years ago with a small corner store in a north end shopping center and has grown to become one of the most recognizable icons in Maryland could be branching out even farther in the near future after company officials this week announced they have sold a majority interest in their franchising corporation to a regional and national investment group.

The Greene Turtle Franchising Corporation announced this week it has sold a majority share of the corporation to the Columbia, Md.-based investment firm JPB Capital Partners for an undisclosed amount. JPB Capital, a private equity firm that invests in mid-market companies throughout the mid-Atlantic and the southeastern U.S., is expected to pick up the Greene Turtle’s franchising efforts, which have resulted in a dozen new locations all over Maryland in the last few years, and expand it to new markets perhaps all over the country.

From modest beginnings at the corner of the Oyster Bay Shopping Center on 116th Street in Ocean City over 30 years ago, the Greene Turtle added a handful of new locations over the years in places such as Fells Point, Laurel, Md., Edgewater and later West Ocean City. Just a few years ago, the original owners, Steve Pappas and Tommy Dickerson, along with old friends who owned and operated the second generation of Greene Turtles, formed a parent corporation and began franchising the sports-themed restaurants and bars to other locations throughout the state.

In a few short years, the number of Greene Turtles climbed to 14 with new locations all over Maryland from Pocomoke in southern Worcester County to La Plata in southern Maryland to Germantown in Western Maryland and practically everywhere in between. The newest Greene Turtle is located in the Verizon Center complex, home to the Washington Wizards and Capitals, with two more locations soon to open at BWI Airport and in Lewes, Del. In all, agreements are in place to open an additional 15 Greene Turtles.

With the company growing so rapidly and new Greene Turtle franchises sprouting up all over Maryland, the original core group of owners including Pappas, Dickerson, Bill Packo and Mike Sanford, to name a few, began looking for an investment firm with solid credentials to help foster the expansion of the Greene Turtle beyond Maryland’s borders and into new, undiscovered markets up and down the east coast.

“We knew if we wanted to continue to get bigger, we were going to need somebody else to come along and invest and help us explore other areas for expansion,” said Pappas. “It just got too big for our group and this partnership makes a lot of sense for us. We hit it off with them from the beginning and they came in with an offer to buy a majority of the franchising corporation.”

Pappas said JPB Capital Partners has the experience and resources to expand the Greene Turtle far beyond what the original partners could or even desired to. He cited one example where the JPB group expanded another popular restaurant and bar chain from 12 units to 275 units in a relatively short period of time.

“That’s what they do,” he said. “They have the capability to do that.”

Sanford, who owns and operates the Greene Turtle in Laurel, is currently the president and CEO of the franchising corporation and will retain his titles, and his role, under the new partnership agreement. Sanford agreed the marriage with JPB will take the Greene Turtle far beyond the original group’s expectations.

“JPB Capital Partners’ investment will enhance our ability to maximize the potential of the Greene Turtle, and their experience in assisting companies in accelerating and managing profitable growth will be invaluable to our future efforts,” he said.

The feeling is mutual, according to JPB Capital Partners Senior Marketing Director J.P. Bolduc, who said this week he is looking forward to working with Sanford, Pappas, Dickerson and the other original Greene Turtle owners to continue to expand the popular restaurant and bar.

“We are excited to make this investment in the Greene Turtle and are highly confident that Mike Sanford and his outstanding management team will continue the profitable growth of the company,” he said.

While the new majority owners will help the franchising aspect of the Greene Turtle grow and expand, it will have very little to do with the original Greene Turtle on 116th Street and the handful of early offshoots still owned by the core group of boyhood and college friends. Pappas will continue to own and operate the original Greene Turtle as well as the vast Greene Turtle apparel operation while Dickerson will continue to own and operate the West Ocean City location and Packo will continue to own and operate the Fells Point location in Baltimore.

“Never in a million years did we ever think we would expand beyond two or three locations, but here we are looking to branch out even further then we already have,” said Pappas. “We’ve been through some ups and downs along the way, but the Turtle has endured and the name recognition has never been stronger. It’s a testament to the product.”