Ulysses “Junior” Bridgeman, one of the most prominent members of the Louisville area’s key food and beverage business sector, is divesting his major franchise restaurant holdings after several decades to move into soft drink bottling.
The former University of Louisville and NBA basketball player has been one of the largest Wendy’s and Chili’s franchisee in the nation, but he is selling his restaurant interests after reaching a deal to become a bottler for The Coca-Cola Company, the Atlanta-based soft-drink producer said last week.
According to the release, Bridgeman is in the process of divesting his restaurant holdings, which include about 240 Wendy’s locations and 120 Chili’s units in 16 states. Bridgeton’s Manna Inc. restaurant company is based in Louisville. His bottling operation will also be located there.
Bridgeman played for 12 years in the NBA, mostly with the Milwaukee Bucks. He purchased his first three Wendy’s restaurants while still playing basketball, and built on those holdings after he retired in 1987.
Bridgeman, through his company, signed a deal to acquire bottling territory from Atlanta-based Coca-Cola in Missouri, Illinois, Kansas and Nebraska. He will also acquire a production facility in Lenexa, Kan. According to the company, Manna will become only the third new independent Coca-Cola bottler in recent decades.
The financial terms were not made public. Bridgeman is regularly described as one of the most financially successful former professional athletes in the United States. His business dealings began before he retired from the Milwaukee Bucks in 1987 when he bought three Wendy’s franchises. Bridgman recently served on the UofL Board of Trustees.