SHERMAN OAKS, CALIF. -- Hamburger Hamlets Inc., the restaurant chain known for its gourmet burgers and celebrity patrons, has agreed to be acquired by a private investor group for $29.2 million in cash.

A new, still unnamed company set up by New York-based Weatherly Private Capital Inc. will pay $9.20 per share for the 37-year-old restaurant chain if the final merger agreement is acceptable to Hamlet's board and shareholders and if the new company's financing is completed.

There are 15 Hamburger Hamlets in Southern California. In addition, the company has three Hamlets in the District of Columbia, one in Chicago, and another restaurant, called Portners, in Alexandria, Va.

Hamburger Hamlets' founders, Harry and Marilyn Lewis, have agreed to sell their 70 percent of the company's 3.17 million shares outstanding.

Under the deal, the Lewises will stay with the company for at least five years as consultants, but their job titles and exact responsibilities have not been decided yet, said Thomas A. McFall, managing partner of Weatherly.

Marilyn Lewis, 56, is the company's chief executive, and Harry Lewis, 67, is president.

Paul Brockman, Hamlets' chief financial officer, and McFall said the deal should be completed within four months.

The assumption of Hamlets' debt makes the deal worth closer to $40 million, said McFall, who is one of three investors in the new company.

But McFall declined to say whether the deal is a leveraged buyout -- which occurs when the assets of a company are pledged as collateral to raise funds to make the purchase.

Harry Lewis said the Weatherly group first approached the closely held Sherman Oaks-based company about two months ago and eventually offered a deal too good to resist. "We couldn't refuse it. It affords us a great deal of everything," he said.

"It's a good time to sell the company," said Sandy Morriss, a partner at the Laventhol & Horwath consulting and accounting firm in Los Angeles. "It's a strong company that has shown it can branch out. You like to sell on the way up," he said.

In the second quarter ended Sept. 27, Hamlets earned $620,412, compared ith $143,961 a year earlier.