Chili’s founder Lavine to ‘customize’ a chain

Chili’s founder Lavine to ‘customize’ a chain

DALLAS Chili’s Grill & Bar [3], is growing another restaurant chain, but his initial plan with this one is to defy one of the multiunit field’s basic tenets: standardization. —Larry Lavine, founder of

Lavine opened Red’s Patio Grill [4] in the Dallas suburb of Plano last July, and he plans to open a second, similar restaurant in the Uptown neighborhood in Dallas, just north of downtown, by early summer. —Larry Lavine, founder of

But unlike his strategy for growing Chili’s—which he sold in 1982 when it comprised the 21 locations that formed the base of Brinker International Inc. [5]’s now 1,275-unit chain—Lavine is creating the second version of Red’s with a more limited menu and calling it Strong’s Everyday Tavern. —Larry Lavine, founder of

Lavine is planning a third version, as yet unnamed, in Grapevine, Texas, a suburb north of the DFW International Airport. —Larry Lavine, founder of

“The version in Uptown, at Fairmount and Cedar Springs, is smaller than Red’s,” said the 62-year-old Lavine. “It is going to be a more limited menu with burgers, salads and ribs.” —Larry Lavine, founder of

Lavine says he’ll try to customize each restaurant to its neighborhood. —Larry Lavine, founder of

“The one in Plano is a certain type of customer,” he said. “We’re looking at a site out in Grapevine. The area is a slightly different mix, so we’re going to adjust the menu to that.” —Larry Lavine, founder of

Lavine said he understands the big-homogenous-chain philosophy: “When a chain finds something that works, they want to do a hundred of them. They want to keep doing it. But I think there’s an opportunity out there to customize the restaurants a little bit. That’s part of our philosophy, but the biggest part of our philosophy is to have all freshly prepared food. Big chains can’t do that.” —Larry Lavine, founder of

Both Red’s and Strong’s will have bar components, Lavine said, and check averages of between $12 and $14. —Larry Lavine, founder of

Strong’s will have about 3,500 square feet, Lavine said, a bit smaller than Red’s. Unit No. 2 also will have a smaller patio. “The one we will be doing in Grapevine will be a little bit larger,” he said. —Larry Lavine, founder of

“The customer has gotten more sophisticated in the last 23 years,” Lavine said. “They are also a little more adventuresome in what they eat. Their palates have improved. Certainly to stand out today, you’ve got to give people a reason to go to you as opposed to a Chili’s, Bennigan’s or Friday’s [6].” —Larry Lavine, founder of

Besides Chili’s, Lavine created the Charley’s Seafood Grill chain, which was sold to Steak and Ale [7], and expanded Tia’s Inc., which was sold to Morrison Restaurants Inc. —Larry Lavine, founder of

In the newest ventures, Lavine said, “We’re really serious about salads. A lot of people treat salads as stepchildren, but we make all the dressings in house and try to have tasty, unique salads—something that you go to the restaurant for. Up till now, the one chain that stands out is Houston’s [8]. You go to lunch there, and every other table has a salad on it. That’s the philosophy we took.” Among the dressings for Red’s and Strong’s are house-made ginger, ranch, Caesar and a maple-honey-mustard concoction. —Larry Lavine, founder of

“People are demanding a broader menu,” Lavine said. “When Chili’s started, we basically had two items on the menu. It’s hard to make a chain with that now, unless you are In-N-Out [9].” —Larry Lavine, founder of

With the third restaurant on the planning board, Lavine said he is enjoying the creative process and the operational aspects of his new business. “When things get settled down, maybe sometime next year, we may look for some joint-venture partners,” he said. “I can’t see far enough in the future for franchising.” —Larry Lavine, founder of