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Queso, tacos and margaritas made by Irving-based restaurant chain Uncle Julio's may soon be served up in more U.S. markets, thanks to an acquisition by a Connecticut-based private equity firm. The private equity firm, L. Catterton, announced Wednesday that it bought the Tex-Mex chain and has plans to expand it to new and existing markets. It did not disclose the terms of the deal.

Uncle Julio's was founded in 1986 in Dallas by Russell "Rusty" Fenton, who later started Rusty Taco (now called R Taco). Uncle Julio's has since expanded to 29 restaurants and seven states, including Texas, Virginia, Maryland, Illinois, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee. It has eight Texas locations, including six in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Uncle Julio's was owned by Julio & Sons Co. until it was purchased in 2011 by Connecticut private equity firm J.H. Whitney Capital Partners. J.H. Whitney expanded the chain from 16 restaurants to 29 restaurants.

In its birthplace, Uncle Julio's competes with dozens of popular, family-friendly Mexican restaurants. Outside of Texas, however, it's blazing trails in markets where sit-down restaurants that serve guacamole, fajitas and other Mexican fare are harder to come by.

L. Catterton did not say in the news release whether it planned to relocate the company's headquarters. The private equity firm and Uncle Julio's have been called for comment.
The private equity firm said in the news release that it was motivated to acquire the company, in part, because of the restaurant chain's high average sales. Last year, Uncle Julio's had average sales of $6.7 million at each location, according to Technomic, a Chicago-based restaurant research firm. That's more than double the average restaurant sales at On the Border, the nation's largest casual dining Tex-Mex chain.

L. Catterton is based in Greenwich, Conn. It has a history of investing in North Texas companies, including Velvet Taco, a Dallas-based trendy taco joint with multiple locations, Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen, an American and homestyle-cooking chain formerly based in Irving and Mizzen+Main, a Dallas menswear company that's developed a fan following of professional athletes.

Outside of North Texas, the private equity firm has invested in other restaurant chains, including P.F. Chang's, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based Chinese chain, and Hopdoddy's, an Austin-based burger concept, among others.

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