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Equity Firm Scoops Up Carvel

NEW YORK -- Private investment firm Roark Capital Group paid $48 million for a majority stake in regionally renowned ice cream maker Carvel Corp. -- best known for its "Fudgie the Whale" and "Cookie Puss" ice cream cakes.

Roark, which said it likes the recession-proof ice cream business due to steady earnings, wants to take the Carvel name national by setting up shop in convenience stores, movie theaters and co-branding with fast-food chains. The firm, which specializes in taking over family-owned businesses, is planning a national advertising campaign.

Founded in 1934, Carvel is one of the oldest names in the ice cream business, with kids all over the northeastern United States and Florida having grown up with TV pitches by gravelly voiced founder Tom Carvel.

The ice cream business has been hot of late with Unilever paying $324 million for Ben & Jerry's last year and Swiss food giant Nestle expected to buy the 50 percent stake of Haagen-Dazs owned by partner Pillsbury, which was recently acquired by General Mills.

Based in Farmington, Conn., Carvel currently has about 400 franchises that serve cones and shakes around the country. In 1993, Carvel began selling its cakes in convenience stores and supermarkets nationwide, which cut deeply into its franchise businesses.
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