Valor Equity Partners’ recent majority investment in Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises Inc.’s quick-service Wow Bao concept has helped it open a delivery-only platform in Los Angeles and build a sixth brick-and-mortar unit in Chicago, the brand president said Thursday.
Geoff Alexander, Wow Bao’s president, said the companies, which are both based in Chicago, plan significant growth for the brand, which LEYE debuted in 2003 at a 386-square-foot kiosk in Water Tower Place and in which it maintains a minority interest. Terms of the June investment were not disclosed.
“This gives us an opportunity to grow and scale,” said Alexander, who joined Wow Bao in 2009. Wow Bao currently has five company-owned brick-and mortar units, two licensed university locations, two licensed airport properties and a food truck. The company also sells retail bao in about 70 groceries in Chicago as well as Minnesota and Michigan.
“This deal closed at the beginning of June, and before the end of August — in less than 90 days — we opened up a satellite location in L.A. that is doing delivery only,” Alexander said in an interview. “And we will have another store open by the end of the year in Chicago.” That will open in about six weeks, he said.
Valor Equity Partners also has partnerships with San Francisco-based Eatsa modern automat-style restaurant, the Chicago-based Fooda lunch delivery service and Murray, Utah-based Sizzling Platter LLC, which franchises Dunkin’ Donuts, Little Caesars, Red Robin, Sizzler and Wingstop
“Valor understands scale,” Alexander said. “They understand the food segment. They understand the technology segment. They are very strategic in their planning. It’s not about how fast they can turn around a concept and make a profit. This is a concept that they believe in.”
Among growth opportunities is the possible expansion of the Los Angeles delivery-only platform, which opened in August.
“We worked with a group out there that converted an old warehouse into 20 separate 200-square-foot kitchens,” Alexander said. “We took over one of those spaces.” The location is a few blocks from the University of Southern California campus in downtown Los Angeles. The kitchen gets DoorDash, GrubHub, Postmates and UberEats online orders, and the food is dispatched from there.
“It’s a great way to introduce the product, because it can travel so well,” Alexander said. “We’ll investigate doing this further.”
The Wow Bao president said he was most excited by the growth opportunities provided by the Valor investment.
“We are going to have high growth and high opportunity for all of our people,” Alexander said, “Bao has been around for thousands of years, but we have the opportunity to bring this traditional, fantastic product to households around the country that haven’t been able to experience it.”
Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises owns, manages and licenses more than 120 restaurants in eight states.
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