Mar 28, 2024 - News

Cooks Venture gets $70M line of credit, but future unclear

Illustration of money surrounded by abstract shapes.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Editor's note: This is part 3 of a series about the sudden suspension of operations by Cooks Venture of Decatur.

Executive vice president Blake Evans "stepped in as a manager" of the defunct Cooks Venture poultry company in November and still runs what's left of it, he told Axios by phone.

  • Soon after closing, the company received a $70 million line of credit. It's not clear how the money is being used.

Why it matters: Questions remain about how the company used its capital; why it suddenly ceased operations, leaving farmers and employees floundering; and what it will do with its tangible assets.

  • Its investors, who provided an estimated $150 million, are without any immediate means of repayment.

State of play: Aside from some skeleton operations, Cooks Venture stopped functioning as a poultry company but still owns millions of dollars in land and buildings in Decatur and Oklahoma.

  • And, there's an estimated multimillion-dollar value in its proprietary chicken breed, the Pioneer.

What we're hearing: Community conversations have circulated in recent weeks about Cooks Venture being sold, but Evans wouldn't confirm it with Axios and neither would a potential buyer when reached by phone.

Follow the money: Cooks Venture received the line of credit in December using its Jay, Oklahoma, property as collateral. A subsidiary of insurance brokerage and consulting firm Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. is listed as the primary lender.

The intrigue: Cherokee Temps, a staffing service in Muskogee, Oklahoma, filed a $150,631 lien against the same property in November for nonpayment of a labor contract.

Between the lines: A different subsidiary of Gallagher helped Cooks land a $50 million loan in 2022 backed by its intellectual property, the Pioneer bird.

What he's saying: "I've been advised by our counsel — I really cannot comment on anything at all at this stage related to anything," Evans told Axios last week.

  • "It's a lot of moving parts and things like that, right?"

Behind the scenes: Cooks Venture continues to raise pedigree birds to preserve the genetics of its breed, people familiar with the company have told Axios.

  • Evans didn't respond to an emailed question about how the resulting eggs are disposed of or sold.

The bottom line: He also declined to say how the $70 million line of credit is being used or if the company will honor any debts owed contract farmers and others.

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