LOS ANGELES -- Yucaipa Cos. here has acquired three former Megafoods stores in southern California for its Food 4 Less warehouse operation and has expressed an interest in acquiring the balance of the Megafoods chain as well. According to Ron Burkle, Yucaipa chairman, "We are interested in the rest of the company." However, he declined to comment further, and executives at Mesa, Ariz.-based Megafoods could not be reached for comment. Megafoods filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Aug. 17 and subsequently closed its eight California stores. Burkle said Yucaipa had made bids on only three of those units, and all three bids were accepted. He said Food 4 Less hopes to reopen the three stores before Christmas. SN reported in mid-September that Yucaipa, owner of the Smitty's Super Valu chain in Phoenix, had discussions with Megafoods about acquiring Megafoods' 24 price-impact stores in Arizona. However, some observers say Megafoods' creditors would be unlikely to approve a sale of the company's profitable Arizona operations without an agreement to also sell the less profitable Texas stores. Some observers expressed doubts that Yucaipa would also be interested in Megafoods' 35 Texas stores, which are conventional operations. Megafoods also operates three stores in Nevada. On another front, Burkle told SN the merger between Yucaipa's Food 4 Less Supermarkets, La Habra, Calif., and Ralphs Grocery Co., Compton, Calif., is a bit behind schedule but should be completed about Jan. 1. The delay from the original early December target date has been prompted by federal and state regulatory agencies, he said. On the federal level, the Federal Trade Commission has requested additional information about the merger, which Burkle said is standard in mergers of this type. On the state level, the California elections diverted the attention of the state's attorney general from the merger, he said. "We'd like to get on with the business of moving the talks along, but the attorney general had his own re-election and other things to take care of, so we're a little behind," Burkle said. He also said that Food 4 Less has filed a registration statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission as a preliminary move to offering bonds in the merged company for Food 4 Less bonds.