There’s news of an enormous, potentially game-changing corporate acquisition, the reverberations of which will be felt all across the country. We speak, of course, of the announcement that IHOP Corp. will buy the Applebee’s chain for $2.1 billion. IHOP plans to convert the floundering Applebee’s, one of the few company-owned national food chains, to the more popular franchise model. Though the deal appears to make immediate economic sense, we’re naturally worried about the possible loss of Applebee’s legendary culinary freedom. Will celebrity chef Tyler Florence, who had just unveiled his bruschetta burger and herb-crusted chicken breast for the fall menu, set to debut September 18, be allowed to continue his independent and aggressive experimentation under IHOP Corp.?
Supporters of the deal argue that the purchase of Applebee’s could be a late-in-life bid for respectability for IHOP Corp., still stigmatized by its “pancake-flipping” persona despite having added a full menu; if so, it would be unlikely to meddle in Applebee’s kitchen affairs lest it destroy its prize property. Others worry that the franchise model, though suitable for the International House of Pancakes, may simply not work for an institution like Applebee’s. The question remains: Despite the promises to bring “focus and discipline” to the table, how committed is IHOP Corp. to the principles of Eatin’ Good in the Neighborhood? If the founding Applebee family, justifiably proud of its crown jewel, doesn’t like the answer, it could yet scotch the deal.