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Big Fish signs deal with Baltimore restaurant group Atlas

Katie Tabeling
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Atlas Restaurant Group has bought a stake in Big Fish Restaurant Group, bringing the two groups together to collectively manage 50 restaurants across five states, | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

WILMINGTON Big Fish Restaurant Group has signed a new partnership with Baltimore restaurant juggernaut Atlas Restaurant Group, opening the door for the Delaware company to expand into existing markets.

Atlas Group bought stakes into Big Fish, although Big Fish representatives declined to clarify what percentage ownership level was in the deal. However, Big Fish co-founder and managing partner Eric Sugrue told the Delaware Business Times that it would be a “true partnership” that has long been explored.

“I’ve known [Atlas Group CEO] Alex Smith for many years, and over that time, we’ve discussed how a partnership could work between our two companies. We finally signed an agreement that makes sense for everyone involved,” Sugrue told DBT.

Sugrue and Big Fish President Holly Monaco will remain in their roles. Current Big Fish concepts will remain the same and the Atlas Group will leverage its might to expand the concept in Delaware.

“We have not discussed any expansion outside our current markets, but nothing is off the table,” Sugrue told DBT.

Big Fish Restaurant Group is now the largest restaurant company in Delaware, surpassing Grotto Pizza last year with 18 restaurants once it announced it would open a venue at the Indian River Marina in February 2023.

Big Fish opened its flagship Big Fish Grill on Delaware Route 1 in Rehoboth Beach in 1997 and has many other concepts like Trolley Square Oyster House in Wilmington’s Trolley Square and and Salt Air restaurants. In the last three years, the group also opened Taco Grande at the Wilmington Riverfront.

In comparison, Atlas Group is owned by brothers CEO Alex Smith and Managing Partner Eric Smith, who are among the youngest restaurateurs in the country. The brothers are also grandsons to John Paterakis, a Baltimore baking magnate that opened a business which eventually became one of the largest suppliers of buns to McDonald’s.

Atlas Group opened four high-dining concepts in 2017 and continued its expansion in Baltimore, Texas, Florida and Washington, D.C. To date, it owns north of 30 restaurants between four states. Last year, Atlas tapped into the Philadelphia market with seafood restaurant Loch Bar.

“This partnership represents a pivotal moment in our collective history, marking a significant milestone for Atlas and Big Fish,” Alex Smith said in a prepared statement. “As we embark on this exciting journey together, we invite our loyal patrons and esteemed partners to join us in celebrating the limitless possibilities that lie ahead.”

“Alex and I both had the honor of being captains of the University of Delaware’s men’s lacrosse team, and we have cherished memories of visiting Big Fish spots during our youth,” Eric Smith said. “Partnering with Big Fish Restaurant Group is a full-circle moment that brings together our shared history and passion for the culinary scene.”

Alex Smith and Sugrue first connected in Baltimore years ago, as Sugrue is also a partner in Nick’s Fish House. The two restaurateurs met one day and ended up talking about seafood and the trade, eventually becoming friends.

Big Fish and Atlas combined now represent more than 50 restaurants with 3,000 employees across Maryland, Delaware, Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania.

“I am excited about this new partnership, which promises growth and endless opportunities for our team,” Monaco said in a prepared statement. “With added resources, sharing the same values and goals, we can continue to build and develop a bright future for our team and further enrich the Big Fish experience for our guests and the communities in which we live.”

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