- Adam Sokoloff is CEO of USHG Acquisition Corp., a SPAC formed by restaurant titan Danny Meyer.
- Walter Robb, former co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, and Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti are on the board.
- A food tech powerhouse like Olo “could make sense for us,” Sokoloff tells Insider.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Adam Sokoloff first met restaurant titan Danny Meyer nearly 20 years ago during a New York power lunch. While Sokoloff, then a Jeffries banker, was impressed by Meyer’s small but growing restaurant group, he told Insider that he was far more intrigued by the restaurant owner’s “enlightened hospitality” ethos.
“Danny, your brand is much bigger than your business. And what you need to do is to think about more ways to take advantage of your brand,” Sokoloff recalls telling Meyer.
Years later, Sokoloff and Meyer are now joining forces to find a company that shares Meyer’s brand vision and take it public through the SPAC process. Last month, they launched the shell company USHG Acquisition Corp.
Sokoloff, founder and managing partner of Asgard Capital Partners, is the CEO of USHG Acquisition.
Meyer, the founder of Shake Shack, is the chairman with the brand equity and celebrity status that Wall Street loves to bet on.
The shell company’s board members include Mark Leavitt, chief investment officer at Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group and a partner in Meyer’s growth equity fund, Enlightened Hospitality Investments; Walter Robb, former co-CEO of Whole Foods Market; Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti; and Lisa Skeete Tatum, founder and CEO of career-centric technology platform Landit.
“This is an incredible group of people that I have the opportunity to lead,” Sokoloff said. “This is the ‘A’ team. My job is really just to harness all this firepower.”
USHG Acquisition intends to merge with one or more “culture-driven” businesses in the following sectors: technology, e-commerce, food and beverage, health and retail, and consumer goods, according to a regulatory filing.
The restaurant industry has gone through a major shake-up during the pandemic, and like other SPACs in the space, USHG Acquisition is looking for a solid winner.
“We’re looking for a business generally, that you know, can command a market valuation of at least a billion dollars,” Sokoloff said. “We can go much larger than that if it’s the right business and it checks all our boxes.”
The company must embody the same philosophies Meyer has become known for – an entrepreneur who puts customers, guests, suppliers, and community first.
That company should have a “people-first culture” supported by a management team that has demonstrated its ability to drive sustainable growth as a “category disruptor,” Sokoloff said.
Ultimately, this company will be “one that wants to partner with us as much as we want to partner with them.”
And, it doesn’t have to be focused on foodservice or restaurants. It could be a technology disruptor similar to restaurant e-commerce provider Olo, which recently announced its initial public offering. The New York-based firm powers ordering and delivery transactions for the nation’s largest chains such as Wingstop and Cheesecake Factory.
Meyer is an investor in Olo and sits on Olo’s board.
“If it were a business like that [Olo], that could make sense for us,” Sokoloff said.
Demand for these online ordering solutions erupted during the pandemic. That forced some food-tech firms such as Toast, a POS provider, to add online ordering solutions to their business models. Toast is rumored to be poised for an IPO.
As such, Sokoloff said he and Meyer are not looking for a fixer-upper like other SPACs.
“We’re not looking for a turnaround. We’re not looking to find a company that we can change their culture and impose our philosophy on,” he said. “We’re looking for a company that already has that [culture driving force] and aspires to have more.”
Several SPACs led by veteran restaurant leaders have formed in 2021, making the search for a food-focused gem competitive.
Sokoloff is not worried.
“We think we are different. We think we bring something that others don’t necessarily bring to the table,” he said. “If we’re interested in the same company, it’s not necessarily for the same reasons. Culture matters to us first and foremost. That’s the number one thing that we care about.”
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