Early Briefing: Eating Organic

Seattle chain Organic to Go is buying High Noon, which has four locations in the D.C. area, and plans to expand the chain locally.

* The options for eating organic are about to grow. Organic to Go, a Seattle company founded in 2004, said Monday that it has purchased locally based High Noon's four cafes, as well as its catering operation, and plans to turn the lunch hot spots into places where office workers can flee their cubicles and devour a meatloaf sandwich made with organic beef.

High Noon was founded by Mark Ordan, who took to the business of offering good food faster after he sold his Fresh Fields grocery chain to Whole Foods in 1996 for $150 million. Ordan, with the backing of Bear Stearns Merchant Banking, later purchased a gourmet grocery chain that ultimately became Balducci's, bringing High Noon into the fold.

Terms of the deal with Organic to Go were not disclosed.

Jason Brown, Organic to Go's founder and chief executive, said the company is on the hunt for local organic food providers, and it will change offerings at High Noon locations -- as well as the name -- in several months. It will add salad bars, too. Organics to Go is keeping High Noon's employees. And the company intends to expand its locations here, Brown said.

"Our goal is to pioneer this," he said.

* Electricity customers in Maryland and the District will overpay for power by more than $1.9 billion through mid-2011 as new federal rules intended to stimulate construction of plants instead enrich power companies, officials alleged Monday.

In a complaint filed with federal energy regulators, the Maryland Public Service Commission and the District's consumer advocate for utility customers joined with state regulators, advocates and electricity buyers in the mid-Atlantic region and Ohio to demand $12 billion in rate relief. The complaint says power companies in the 13-state grid operated by Pennsylvania-based PJM Interconnection used their market influence to constrain electricity supplies, causing price increases that are being passed on to customers as of last Sunday.

At issue in the complaint are "capacity payments," which are intended to encourage investment in power production and are passed through to customers after utility companies buy future supplies in electricity auctions. The payments are part of the region's switch in the past decade to a deregulated, competitive market for electricity.

The Maryland Office of the People's Counsel estimated the average "excess" charges at $570 over three years for residential customers of Pepco, Baltimore Gas and Electric and SMECO, an electric cooperative that serves Southern Maryland -- or about $15.85 a month. The effect on District customers, who also are served by Pepco, would be about the same, officials said.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission spokeswoman Mary O'Driscoll said the agency does not comment on pending complaints.

An official for Constellation Energy Group, the region's largest energy producer and the corporate parent of BGE, said the capacity payments were not necessarily designed to finance new power plants. They also allow the company to invest in existing plants that might otherwise shut down, said Daniel Allegretti, a vice president for energy policy for Baltimore-based Constellation.

* Sallie Mae, which has reported three consecutive quarterly losses, is now "solidly profitable" partly because of its loans not backed by the federal government, the Reston company said.

Liquidity and access to capital markets remained strong, Sallie Mae said in materials prepared for an investor conference. The company said it issued $9.9 billion of asset-backed securities this year through May 30.

* LaSalle Hotel Properties, a Bethesda real estate investment trust that owns 31 upscale hotels, said chief executive Jon E. Bortz planned to step down July 1, 2010, to make way for Chief Operating Officer Michael D. Barnello under a new succession plan approved by the board. Bortz would continue as chairman after his retirement as chief executive.

Under the plan, Barnello immediately takes over as president. The board plans to name him a trustee in July, increasing the number of trustees to eight.
Intelsat's Finance Chief Resigns

* Intelsat, which is based in Bermuda and has operations in Washington, said Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Freimark is resigning effective Friday and chief executive David McGlade will become acting CFO at the world's biggest commercial-satellite operator.

An outside search for a permanent finance chief has begun, Intelsat said. Freimark is stepping down to pursue other opportunities, the company said.

Intelsat satellites offer voice, data and video distribution, including services to television broadcasters.

* Federal Realty Investment Trust of Rockville purchased a Boca Raton, Fla., shopping center for $41.7 million.

Federal Realty said its acquisition of Del Mar Village is part of its plans to buy projects in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties in Florida, affluent areas where it is difficult to start new developments.

* Merkle, a marketing firm, completed its move to a new headquarters from Lanham to Columbia. The privately held corporation employs about 1,100 in Howard County and at its offices in Hagerstown, Md.; Boston; Chicago; Denver; Philadephia; and Seattle.

* A federal bankruptcy judge on Monday approved an agreement for W.R. Grace to reimburse the federal government $250 million for the investigation and cleanup of asbestos contamination in a Montana town.

The Columbia-based chemical maker agreed to the amount in March to settle a bankruptcy claim brought by the government to recover money for the past and future cleanup of contaminated schools, homes and businesses in Libby, Mont.

The contamination has been blamed for sickening hundreds of people, some of whom have died.

According to an order signed by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Judith Fitzgerald during a hearing in Pittsburgh, Grace must pay within 30 days.

By Dan Beyers  |  June 3, 2008; 7:09 AM ET
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