Reporter's Notebook

Daphne's California Greek considers shift to new name/concept

The new owners of the Daphne’s California Greek chain are transforming one restaurant to a new concept called Yalla Mediterranean, scheduled to debut in December.

Dave Wolfgram, Daphne’s chief executive, said the company will evaluate the new concept to see whether the entire 49-unit Daphne’s chain might benefit from a reconcepting to shift to a broader Mediterranean menu.

That would be an interesting move for Daphne’s, which has struggled with its Greek identity in recent years.

What was originally called Daphne’s Greek Café was founded in 1991 by George Katakalidis as a limited-service Greek chain known for its classic pita sandwiches with various grilled meats and spicy feta dip.

The chain grew to close to 80 units in the West pre recession. But after the economic downturn took a toll, Katakalidis put Daphne’s into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2010. A few months later, it was acquired by banking firm Trefethen Advisors LLC, led by Bill Trefethen, who attempted a brand revitalization, changing the chain’s name to Daphne’s California Greek to reflect a more-contemporary healthy-lifestyle-brand emphasis.

Earlier this year, however, Daphne’s changed hands again, this time acquired by Chicago-based investment firm Victory Park Capital Advisors, or VPC. Wolfgram, the former chief executive of Black Angus Steakhouse, was brought in as CEO.

Details on the new Yalla Mediterranean concept have not yet been revealed, but Wolfgram said it will open in the former Daphne’s location in Pleasant Hill, Calif. Currently under construction, the restaurant will be reborn as Yalla in mid December.

Yalla Mediterranean will continue Daphne’s healthful emphasis and fast-casual format, tapping what is a growing hunger for flavors of that region, he added.

“We love Greek, but Mediterranean gives us the opportunity to be more creative with the food. We would like to have a broader mix of flavors,” said Wolfgram.

He also said it will be very different from growing Mediterranean brands like Plano, Texas-based Zoe’s Kitchen, with 125 units, and other chains with similar kabab-and-falafel offerings.

There's also the 28-unit Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill, based in Denver, which recently debuted its first urban-design prototype there. Garbanzo’s founder was originally from Israel.

San Diego-based Luna Grill, with more of a Persian focus, is doing well in Southern California with 15 units, this year opening its first location in Texas.

How Yalla and Daphne's might fit into the mix remains to be seen, but let the hummus games begin!

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