Castanea was founded in 2001 by Brian Knez and Rob Smith, former co-CEOs of Harcourt General and The Neiman Marcus Group, following the sale of Harcourt General. Decades of experience has taught our team that deep expertise, a consultative approach, and aligned interests provide consistent and meaningful outcomes for all.

General Cinema Corporation


General Cinema Theaters

In 1937, Philip Smith founded General Cinema Corporation (GCC) with a chain of drive-in cinemas. GCC went public in 1960; shortly thereafter Philip's son Richard (Dick) Smith assumed leadership of the company that would become the largest movie exhibitor in the US.


Pepsi-Cola Bottling

Assembled by General Cinema in 1968, General Cinema Beverages became the largest Pepsi-Cola bottling franchise in the US and was sold to PepsiCo in 1989.


Neiman Marcus

In 1987, GCC purchased high-end retailers Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, along with Contempo Casuals, to form The Neiman Marcus Group (NMG). NMG was sold in 2005 to TPG and Warburg Pincus.

Harcourt General logo


Harcourt General

In 1991, GCC purchased Harcourt Brace Jovanovich and later changed the corporate name to Harcourt General. Reed Elsevier and Thomson Corporation purchased Harcourt General in 2001.

Brian Knez Rob Smith Castanea Partners


Castanea Partners

Castanea was founded as a private investment firm in 2001 by Rob Smith (r) and Brian Knez (l), former Vice Chairmen of Neiman Marcus, and Paul Gibbons, former Vice President and Treasurer of Harcourt General and The Neiman Marcus Group. Early consumer investments included eatzis, Fuze Beverages, and Hanna Anderson.

Presently investing out of a $735 million fourth fund, Castanea has raised over $1 billion. Throughout our history at Castanea, we have consistently challenged ourselves to hone and improve our consumer-focused investment practice, always in service of our partner companies. We have been fortunate partners in many amazing brands.

The Castanea Name

The name originates from Castanea Dentata, the scientific name for American Chestnut, a tree native to eastern North America. With its massive, wide-spreading branches and a height of up to 100 feet, the Chestnut was considered king of the eastern American forest.