Georges expresses ‘serious interest’ in The Advocate

John Georges, who has business holdings ranging from food service distribution to Galatoire’s restaurant, said Monday he has a “serious interest” in buying The Advocate.

Georges, 52, of New Orleans, said talks with Capital City Press, which owns The Advocate, “have gone beyond a conversation.”

“I love Louisiana and I like to buy and own Louisiana companies,” he said.

Georges said he would not discuss terms of a transaction or his strategy in negotiations, and that if there is any offer for the newspaper it would be before the summer.

Richard Manship, president and CEO of Capital City Press, disclosed Friday the family-owned newspaper was in talks with a potential buyer. Manship would not disclose the buyer at the time, but said it was a private individual.

“I’m glad the person we’re looking at selling to is someone local,” Manship said Monday. “That’s good for the city, good for the state and good for the readers. This is someone that cares, who has the same interests we do because he’s been reading The Advocate for a long time and likes it enough to want to keep it going.”

Manship said a sale of The Advocate will be considered if the price is right. He would not elaborate further about the asking price.

Much of Georges’ success stems from the growth of the nearly 100-year-old family business, Imperial Trading Co., which was started as a “mom-and-pop business” by his maternal grandfather, a Greek immigrant named C.H. Pelias.

Imperial Trading, a wholesale grocery company, has branches throughout the South, distributing goods to convenience stores. The company does nearly $1 billion in annual sales.

Georges has twice unsuccessfully run for public office in self-financed campaigns. He ran for governor of Louisiana in 2007 as an independent and for mayor of New Orleans in 2010 as a Democrat. During his 2007 gubernatorial run, Georges estimated his net worth at “probably” more than $100 million.

Contrary to speculation, Georges said The Advocate’s recent entry into the New Orleans market wasn’t a factor in his interest in buying the newspaper.

Georges said he approached Capital City Press 18 months ago about buying The Advocate.

The Advocate launched its daily New Orleans edition in October to fill the void created by The Times-Picayune’s decision to switch to a three-day-a-week print edition.

Georges said his talks with the Manship family, who own Capital City Press, were put on hold for several months while the daily New Orleans edition was launched.

“I love spending most of my time in New Orleans and it saddened me what happened with The Times-Picayune,” Georges said. But talks with The Advocate were re-engaged at the end of 2012, he said.

While Georges lives in New Orleans, he repeatedly stressed his ties to Baton Rouge.

“I’ve been doing business in Baton Rouge over 35 years,” he said. “I think Baton Rouge is an exciting, vibrant town with a lot of business upside.”

And Georges said he is a fan of The Advocate.

“I like their independence and the reporting they do on information I am interested in,” he said.

Much of the conversations Georges said he had with the Manships involved “courting them socially.” Georges joked that running for political office is a good way to make sure that your dirty laundry is put out in the public, so the Manships should feel comfortable about his background.

Georges has no experience in newspapers, outside of a stint editing the newspaper at Sam Barthe High School and serving as co-founder of The Uptown Alligator, a New Orleans-based weekly, in the early 1980s.

“I have the ability to put together resources to run and operate various businesses,” he said. “I would bring the resources to management that they need.”

Georges said he wouldn’t use The Advocate for political purposes, despite his previous runs for office and speculation that he may again run for governor.

“I recognize the role the newspaper plays as an independent voice,” he said. “For the most part, I think the people that work there would be happy.”

The primary motivation for buying The Advocate is his children, Georges said. Georges and his wife, Dathel, have three children, Zana, Liza and Nike. Two of the children are in college.

“The newspaper industry is cool, digital and current,” he said. “It’s more suited to their skill sets and generation.”

But Georges said he wouldn’t buy the newspaper to install his children in management roles.

“I would hire the best people in the business,” he said. “My children would probably be interns.”

Edward Atorino, managing director of The Benchmark Co., a New York investment firm, said despite the difficulties the newspaper industry faces, there are still willing buyers for publications.

“People that can afford it will step up and buy newspapers,” he said. “They have a strange appeal to people.”