Naples investor looks to reignite financially troubled Evans Oil

Dean, an Evans Oil Co. employee who declined his last name, fills a 1,000-gallon container used to fuel heavy duty equipment vehicles at the the future Lantana community site, Thursday, July 26, 2012, in Naples, Fla. This is the 10th and last neighborhood in the Olde Cypress development in North Naples. Lantana will have 122 one and two-story single-family homes.

Photo by COREY PERRINE

Dean, an Evans Oil Co. employee who declined his last name, fills a 1,000-gallon container used to fuel heavy duty equipment vehicles at the the future Lantana community site, Thursday, July 26, 2012, in Naples, Fla. This is the 10th and last neighborhood in the Olde Cypress development in North Naples. Lantana will have 122 one and two-story single-family homes.

— A Naples investor and entrepreneur hopes to refuel plans for growth at Evans Oil as the local company fights to emerge from bankruptcy.

Three bidders have emerged for the assets of the Naples-based oil company, which last year filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection under a mound of debt. One of the bidders is a newly formed company, Florida Petroleum, whose two partners include Casey Askar, a Naples resident with a growing food empire.

The other potential bidders are Atlas Oil Co., headquartered in Taylor, Mich., and Avfuel Corp., a fuel distributor in the Midwest. Those bidders could wipe out dozens of local jobs by merging Evans Oil into their other operations, while Florida Petroleum has definitive plans to keep and grow those jobs, Askar said.

Mary Zaleski, an Atlas Oil spokeswoman, declined comment, only saying: "We do not comment on potential mergers and acquisitions."

Avfuel Corp. representatives were unavailable for comment.

In federal court, there have been talks of offers valued at $14 million to $25 million for Evans Oil. Askar would not discuss details of Florida Petroleum's offer, which is not yet public in court records.

"It's a real offer. It's not smoke and mirrors. It's a capitalized offer, with very little debt," he said. "It's a go-forward winning offer. It's not something where we may end up back in bankruptcy a year or two from now."

With Florida Petroleum's ownership, the local company would get new management, but it would operate under the same name.

Established in 1959, Evans Oil, headquartered off Horseshoe Drive South, distributes bulk oil, gas, diesel and other petroleum products. Its fuel supplies come from ports in Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville.

The oil company's customers include gas stations, convenience stores, marinas, golf courses and car dealerships. Under new ownership in 2001, the company took a new direction focused on growth beyond Southwest Florida — a plan that later seemed to falter.

Bloomberg reported that Evans Oil transported more than 50 million gallons of product and generated $3.5 million in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization in 2010.

Florida Petroleum's all-cash offer is supported by Evans Oil and Chevron, a large creditor in the bankruptcy case. Evans Oil is a major distributor for Chevron, fueling many of its local gas stations.

Askar still seeks the backing of the oil company's largest creditor, Fifth Third Bank, which spurred the bankruptcy filing more than 15 months ago. At the time of the filing, the bank was owed more than $35 million.

"It's a bank that I have a very good relationship with. It's a small world," said Askar, adding that Fifth Third has been his primary bank in Michigan.

Askar, who owns Askar Brands LLC and several commercial real estate enterprises, moved his family to Naples in 2010 from Michigan after owning a second home here for more than a decade.

Askar Brands, based in Commerce Township, Mich., is a franchisee with a growing portfolio of restaurant chains, including Papa Romano's and Mr. Pita in the Midwest. The company has more than 200 restaurant locations under its umbrella across the country.

Last year, Askar took over Big Al's restaurants in Naples, Bonita Springs and Fort Myers, after the local owners faced financial hardship.

He sees a huge opportunity to grow Evans Oil, which has roughly 70 employees.

"We'll be growing rapidly through talent and technology, which will bring in a lot of staff," Askar said.

Though management will change, he's not looking to let loose employees, including the company's current owner and manager, Randy Long.

Florida Petroleum's five-year plan is to grow Evans Oil from a 50-million-gallon-a-year company to a more than 500-million-gallon business, Askar said.

"Right now, they are mainly in Southwest Florida, but we would grow instantly in the state of Florida and grow even outside of the state of Florida," Askar said.

A hearing on the case scheduled for July 27 was cancelled and the next one is slated for Aug. 9 in federal court in Fort Myers. Askar is hoping the auction for the oil company's assets will be held at next week's hearing and his company will emerge as the winning bidder with the winning plan for reorganization.

Timing is critical because Evans Oil supplies fuel to school districts in Lee, Charlotte, Collier and Pinellas counties – and the demand from the districts will soon soar as buses hit the roads again with the start of a new school year. Those contracts and others could be in jeopardy if the local company doesn't get an infusion of cash soon, Askar said.

While there are other local fuel suppliers, Evans Oil has an edge over them because of its storage capacity, its large fleet of trucks and its blending capabilities, he said.

__ Connect with Laura Layden at www.naplesnews.com/staff/laura_layden

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