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Best Chicago buys Moo & Oink brand in auction

Moo   Oink  7158 S. Stony Island.| Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Moo & Oink 7158 S. Stony Island.| Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 16, 2012 10:07AM

Best Chicago Meat Co. emerged as the winner in a bankruptcy auction Wednesday for the Moo & Oink brand, bidding $530,000 for the intellectual property — such as the Moo & Oink characters, web site and product recipes.

The buyer, based at 4649 W. Armitage Ave., is African-American owned. Robert (Bob) Beavers, the chairman and majority shareholder, said the business plans to reinstate the Moo & Oink products in the Chicago market, then test markets in Detroit and Birmingham, Ala., and look into taking the brand to Atlanta and Memphis, Tenn.

Best Chicago may expand the brand to new products, such as barbecue sauce, seasonings and even vegetables, said Dave Van Kampen, president and chief operating officer.

Bidding started at $100,000.

Moo & Oink was offered at auction as a whole and in pieces. Fixtures and equipment sold for a combined $68,000 to two liquidators that planned to sell the items at a public auction, probably in late January. No one bid on the real estate that were the company’s four stores.

Courtney Barr, lawyer for the main creditor, First Midwest Bank, which is owed $5.5 million, said she hopes real estate brokers will sell the properties this spring and raise some cash for creditors. She said one national retailer had taken a close look at buying the Moo & Oink real estate, but didn’t bid.

Moo & Oink had stores on the edges of the city’s so-called “food desert,” and so had drawn interest, Barr said. The Chicago stores were at 7158 S. Stony Island, 4848 W. Madison and 8201 S. Racine, and the chain also was at 3330 W. 183rd St. in Hazel Crest.

Exavier Pope, a lawyer representing two African-American investor groups, said he has talked with parties that are interested in buying the Stony Island and Madison properties.

A bankruptcy judge put Moo & Oink, 150-year-old meat retailer, up for auction on Nov. 14 after insisting that the sale be widely publicized and open to the public. Creditors had forced the company into Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation in late September.

Moo & Oink’s demise put 200 employees out of work on Sept. 9 after it closed its stores and its e-commerce and wholesale operations. The employees received no severance benefits.

A holding company Beavers controls said it may hire some of the former Moo & Oink employees for certain operating units, including Best Diamond Plastics, Best Diamond Packaging and Best Croutons. The company’s web site said those divisions primarily sell products to McDonald’s, Burger King and other fast-food outlets.

Beavers is a former member of McDonald’s Corp.’s board of directors.

Moo & Oink’s business income had dropped to $18.9 million while it operated in 2011, compared with $29.2 million in 2010 and $39.3 million in 2009, court documents show.

Its top 20 creditors are owed a collective $6.4 million.

Mary Steele, who represented the former employees throughout the process, said she wished that the company could have been sold as a whole. “But I’m OK with it. God is still good,” she said.

Ricky Jones, a Moo & Oink driver for 25 years, said, “I am disappointed. I have no job and I still have a family to feed.”

Mari Gallagher, a Chicago consultant who has led research into the availability of groceries in the city, said that retaining a business presence at the Moo & Oink locations in Chicago “is crucial if we want to continue making progress in shrinking the food desert.”

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