Junior Bridgeman Shedding Restaurants; Signs Major Deal with Coca-Cola

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October 07, 2016 By David Mann - Biz Journals

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Restaurant industry veteran and former basketball great Ulysses “Junior” Bridgeman is getting out of the Wendy's business and becoming a Coca-Cola bottler.

The Coca-Cola Co. (NYSE: KO) announced the move today, saying it coincides with its re-franchising of its North American bottling operations.

Ulysses "Junior" Bridgeman owns Manna Inc., the nation's newest Coca-Cola bottler.

Bridgeman's company, Manna Inc., is the Coca-Cola system’s newest bottler, the release said. Bridgeman is a former University of Louisville and Milwaukee Bucks player who established his business interests by purchasing three Wendy’s franchises while he was still playing basketball, according to the news release.

Bridgeman retired from the NBA in 1987 and expanded his portfolio of businesses to become one of the largest restaurant franchise operators in the country. He also is one of the highest paid former athletes in the country.

The release says Bridgeman is in the process of divesting his restaurant holdings, which include Wendy’s and Chili’s franchises, to focus on his future business in the Coca-Cola system.

It's not clear whether that includes some of his smaller restaurant interests, such as the Mark's Feed Store chain, BirraCibo on Fourth Street and Napa River Grill in Westport Village. There also is no indication of who might buy the restaurant operations. I called Bridgeman today, but I haven't heard back.

Bridgeman has signed a letter of intent to acquire territory from The Coca-Cola Co. (NYSE: KO) in Missouri, Illinois, Kansas and Nebraska, including St. Louis and Kansas City. Bridgeman also will acquire a production facilityin Lenexa, Kan.

Justin Bridgeman, one of Junior Bridgeman’s sons, will lead the company with his father.

The new bottling company will be only the third new, independent Coca-Cola bottler in recent decades, the release said. The others are Great Lakes Coca-Cola Distribution LLC and Coca-Cola Beverages Florida LLC.