Mackenzie sold in private deal

Business Digest

September 06, 2006|By Allison Connolly | Allison Connolly,Sun reporter

Baltimore-based Chesapeake Bay Gourmet, which brought Maryland-style crab cakes to the nation by way of the QVC home shopping network, has acquired a local purveyor of Scottish smoked salmon and other specialty foods.

Chesapeake Bay Gourmet's parent company, Atlanta-based Astral Brands LLC and its subsidiary, Astral Foods, has purchased Baltimore-based Mackenzie Ltd., a 16-year-old gourmet catalog company. The deal, which was private, closed June 30.

The two brands will continue to operate separately, but under one roof, Steve Cohen, president of Astral Foods, said yesterday. Mackenzie's five employees have moved to Chesapeake Bay Gourmet's offices in Essex from their previous headquarters in Rossville.

Cohen said Mackenzie will grow, leveraging Chesapeake Bay Gourmet's database of 2 million subscribers and the capacity at Astral's direct-marketing firm, Astral Direct. Meanwhile, the 25-year-old Chesapeake Bay Gourmet is expanding.

The company has two Chesapeake Bay Crab Cakes & More restaurants, in Hunt Valley and Annapolis, and Cohen said he wants to take the concept nationally next year. The restaurants offer fast-food service, but the food and atmosphere are high-end, Cohen said.

The recipe for the handmade crab cakes comes from the company's original owners, Ron and Margie Kauffman, who won a chance to sell their crab cakes on QVC in 1995. Sales exploded, and the show put the company on the map.

Astral bought Chesapeake Bay Gourmet two years ago, Cohen said, with plans to expand the restaurant concept based on increasing interest from across the country. The company ships its crab cakes and other menu items around the country and to Hawaii and Alaska.

"We're growing fairly rapidly," said Cohen, who came to Astral from Ogden Entertainment, which operated concession stands at stadiums and other venues and was bought by ARAMARK Corp. in 2000.

The company's products are now in 2,000 retail outlets - up from 500 a year ago - and are still sold on television.

Astral also is expanding its division, which processes and ships orders, known as World Class Fulfillment. It distributes perishable foods for the Nathan's chain and for QVC.

The combined company employs about 130, up from 95 a year ago.

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