A Long Island, New York, kid who moved to Los Angeles 12 years ago, Andrew Schwartz had never heard of Kilwins, the ice cream, candy and fudge store founded in 1947 by Katy and Don Kilwin in Petoskey, Michigan.
But one of his colleagues at Levine Leichtman Capital Partners had, and like everyone who lived near a Kilwins, "he grew up loving this brand," Schwartz said. LLCP bought a majority share in Kilwins and will work to expand nationwide the "iconic" brand with about 150 units, today mostly in the Midwest, East and Southeast.
Robin and Don McCarty were the majority owners of Kilwins since 1995, and will retain a minority interest. Don McCarty will remain on the board and LLCP is searching for a new CEO; McCarty wished to retire from the chief executive post.
"Don, he's not the founder, but he took the company to the next level," Schwartz said. "A lot of the brand building, processes within the company, happened under his stewardship. "He's just a wonderful man. It will be great to have his wisdom and experience."
LLCP is the first institutional capital to come into the business, Schwartz said. Read about LLCP's investment and exit from Nothing Bundt Cakes here.
Schwartz said LLCP will focus on the CEO search first, and also invest in areas including franchise lead generation. Kilwins has taken a "very, very conservative approach to franchise lead generation. They've opened 10 to 15 units a year. We'd like to amp that up."
Marketing will also get attention, including ways to increase foot traffic to the stores. "It's a little bit like a theater atmosphere, where there's and employee making the candy apples, or making fudge, that definitely piques one's interest as they're walking by," Schwartz said.
"I do think this is one where we'll have an easier time going into new markets" than a more run-of-the-mill brand.
Since inception, LLCP has managed about $13.2 billion of institutional capital across 15 investment funds and has invested in more than 100 portfolio companies. It manages $8.6 billion of assets today.