Naples company refueling financially troubled Evans Oil

Dania Maxwell/Staff 
 Casey Askar, the new owner of Evans Oil Company, stands in front of onsite gasoline and petroleum holding tanks on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 in Naples, Fla. Askar says the tanks can hold about 200,000 gallons of liquid.

Photo by DANIA MAXWELL, NAPLES DAILY NEWS // Buy this photo

Dania Maxwell/Staff Casey Askar, the new owner of Evans Oil Company, stands in front of onsite gasoline and petroleum holding tanks on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 in Naples, Fla. Askar says the tanks can hold about 200,000 gallons of liquid.

Evans Oil won't run out of gas.

The Naples-based company has been rescued from bankruptcy and refueled by a new owner.

Last week, it appeared the local company might not survive, as the new owner — Florida Petroleum — fought to close on a court-approved asset purchase agreement.

After the purchase agreement was tweaked last week, the multimillion-dollar sale closed Tuesday.

Florida Petroleum was the winning bidder at an auction held in August. That company's owner is Casey Askar, a Naples resident with a growing food empire going under the name Askar Brands.

"We finally got it done, after a long haul," he said of his purchase of Evans Oil.

"We've saved jobs," Askar said. "We're back in business. The morale is very strong."

Last week, a court-appointed facilitator held a second auction because Florida Petroleum had failed to close on its purchase, but no other acceptable bids came in.

Evans Oil remained open for business, but its operations were limited last week as its future looked uncertain. On Thursday, customers found caution tape around its pumps off Horseshoe Drive, with no way to fill up their gas tanks. Deliveries slowed and fewer trucks were on the road.

Askar said he was working to finalize his offer even as a bankruptcy-judge approved another auction, which would have liquidated Evans Oil's assets and likely wiped out most of the local jobs.

"The employees were living in the dark," he said.

On Friday, Askar talked to employees for the first time and announced his company would buy Evans Oil as it had agreed to do. He hoped the closing would be that day, but it took several more days to sign off on all the documents involved in the bankruptcy sale.

"Every turn I made I would hit a brick wall," he said.

At the first auction, Florida Petroleum had a winning bid of $15.75 million. The next closest offer was $15.55 million, coming from Great Lakes Petroleum, headquartered in Charlotte, N.C.

Great Lakes was considered a back-up bidder if the deal with Florida Petroleum fell apart, but that company lost interest and at the end of the day no other real bidders stepped forward, Askar said.

He said Fifth Third Bank, which sent Evans Oil into bankruptcy, just wanted to test the market to see what else was out there with a second auction.

Only a few employees have left with the change in ownership and Askar is keeping the others as long as they want to stay, he said.

"It's pretty much all intact," he said of Evans Oil. "We lost very little customers and almost no employees or suppliers."

The former owner, Randy Long, won't come back to Evans Oil. He hasn't been at the company for weeks, since the court appointed a facilitator to take his place as plans for an asset sale moved ahead.

Evans Oil filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year under a mound of debt. The long-time Naples company has about 70 employees.

Since 1959, Evans Oil has distributed bulk oil, gas, diesel and other petroleum products in Florida. 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.

Evans Oil is a major distributor for Chevron in Florida, supplying gas stations on the east and west coasts.

"Chevron is really a premium brand so that brought a big value to Evans," Askar said.

Under Long's ownership, the company took a new direction focused on growth beyond Southwest Florida — a plan that later seemed to falter. At the time of its bankruptcy filing in January 2011, the company owed more than $35 million to Fifth Third Bank.

Askar plans to grow the company by adding customers and by acquiring similar businesses.

"We will probably be at about 100 employees fairly quickly," he said.He wants to see the company's footprint expand in Florida and beyond.

He may change the company's name, if he finds it has been tainted by the bankruptcy, he said. "I don't know until I test the water," Askar said.

He tipped his hat to Long, who he said assembled a good team of employees, which other interested bidders seemed to overlook.

"There's really so much opportunity and we're going to do a lot of good in the community," Askar said. "We will continue to support the community."

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

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