Reel Club, Wow Bao drive Lettuce Entertain You’s 2008 growth plans

Reel Club, Wow Bao drive Lettuce Entertain You’s 2008 growth plans

CHICAGO —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

The multiconcept, privately owned LEYE, which was founded in 1971 by Richard Melman and his late partner Jerry Orzoff, plans to expand Wow Bao, an Asian steamed-buns quick-service concept, and to debut a yet-to-be-named fine-dining seafood emporium to replace the former Ambria in Chicago’s Lincoln Park area. LEYE also is adding new components to some of its existing 60 restaurants. —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

This fall has been particularly busy for the Chicago-based company, with three new concepts opening only a week apart. They are the third Wow Bao downtown; Reel Club, a new seafood dinnerhouse in the city’s western suburb of Oak Brook; and Pizzeria Via Stato, an adjunct to the two-and-a-half-year-old Osteria Via Stato in Chicago’s River North entertainment district. —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

In addition, the company soon will expand its holdings in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area and in Scottsdale, Ariz. LEYE also expects to open additional restaurants in Las Vegas at some point, said chief executive Kevin Brown, whose conservative projection for 2007 systemwide sales is between $330 million and $340 million, compared with LEYE’s top-line take of about $315 million last year. —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

Total sales could be even higher than Brown projected, said foodservice analyst and consultant Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic Inc. of Chicago. —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

LEYE seems “pretty well insulated from many economic conditions,” he said while praising the company’s guest loyalty program, loyal relationships with customers, focus on operations and cautious growth pace. —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

Tristano finds the Wow Bao concept especially indicative of LEYE’s future growth potential. —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

“It’s different, very efficient, has good-quality food, and is very, very popular,” he said. —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

He speculated that LEYE might grow the steamed-bun chain at a modest pace for a period of time and then sell it. —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

Unlike the original Wow Bao kiosk, located in Chicago’s Water Tower Place shopping mall, the two newer branches, at opposite ends of the downtown Loop, have seating in the stores and offer breakfast and extended hours. —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

“There are three different egg bao, and they’re really good,” Brown said of the breakfast buns, or bao. —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

Prices range from $1.29—for one breakfast bao with egg and either spicy sausage, bacon and Cheddar, or spinach and mushroom,—to $5.99 for a combo of five pot stickers in a choice of three flavors. Wow Bao also offers rice bowls, soups, salads, teas, coffees, fresh orange juice, fresh ginger ale, pomegranate juice, fountain drinks and other morning items, including fresh muffins, yogurt parfaits and fresh fruit. —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

LEYE expects to open more Wow Bao units in its hometown before expanding elsewhere. —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

“We will keep an eye on it,” Brown said. “It’s still young.” —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

The new Reel Club is a dinnerhouse specializing in seafood and steaks that replaces LEYE’s former Papagus, a Greek restaurant, in the upscale Oak Brook Center shopping mall. The 300-seat restaurant, which includes dining spaces that can be closed off for private parties, is more contemporary than LEYE’s Shaw’s Crab House, a Maryland-style crab house downtown, or the company’s Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab, Brown explained. —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

Mychael Bonner, Reel Club’s executive chef, described it as “more hip and edgier” than Shaw’s or Joe’s with “wow presentations.” Many dishes are twists on classics, such as the Alaskan king crab cocktail; cedar-planked Lake Superior whitefish with espresso-barbecue sauce; and “gift-wrapped grouper,” roasted in clear parchment with clams, sunchokes and green beans. —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

Three variations of seafood Milanese, expected to become a signature dish, feature either tilapia or sole. Entrées range from $16.95 for seafood pasta to $54.95 for a 20-ounce sliced, Prime-grade dry-aged porterhouse. —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

Reel Club is dedicated to sourcing seafood that is humanely harvested from sustainable fisheries, Bonner said. The restaurant also has a bar focus in its Barracuda Lounge, featuring specialty cocktails. —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

Another slated fall opening is that of Pizzeria Via Stato, the former bar area of Osteria Via Stato, a rustic Italian restaurant known for its family-style platter service. —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

“A lot of people were asking for pizza,” Brown said. “This was a nice way to create another space.” —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

The 50-seat, Roman-style pizzeria features thin-crust pizzas made in a wood-burning oven, salads and small plates of artisanal ingredients, including house-made sausage and salumi. All 300 wines are Italian and are served either by the bottle or quartino carafe, which holds about two glasses. The bar also promotes its specialty cocktails, created by LEYE mixologist Adam Seger. —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

Frankie’s 5th Floor, a different style of pizzeria, is scheduled to open soon in the corridor that resembles an outdoor courtyard outside of LEYE’s Tucci Benucch trattoria in the Bloomingdale’s mall on North Michigan Avenue. Tucci Benucch itself, one of LEYE’s older Italian concepts, is slated to be reconcepted early next year to a variation called Frankie’s Scaloppine. —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

Later in 2008, LEYE plans to open a flagship fine-dining restaurant in the former Ambria space. It will be a seafood-focused restaurant, which Melman intends to be to Chicago what the acclaimed Le Bernardin is to New York. LEYE has revealed that Laurent Gras, whose resume includes heralded work at Fifth Floor in San Francisco and with Alain Ducasse in Paris and Monaco, will be executive chef. —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

Big Bowl, a pan-Asian dinnerhouse that now has eight units in the Chicago and Minneapolis areas and in Reston, Va., almost certainly will debut in Scottsdale next summer, Brown said. One of LEYE’s oldest restaurants, Don & Charlie’s, has operated in Scottsdale since the late 1970s. —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

Brown said the company “is looking to do more” in Las Vegas, following last summer’s successful launch of Stripburger, a full-service, 180-seat outdoor eatery featuring hamburgers, fries, milk shakes and miniature cakes that overlooks the Strip. That launch brought LEYE’s Las Vegas group to five restaurants, including a clone of Mon Ami Gabi, another Lincoln Park institution. —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

Another Mon Ami Gabi bistro, headed by chef-partner Gabino Sotelino, is on the drawing boards for Reston next year. —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

LEYE also is seeking a site for a third Shaw’s Crab House, Brown said, adding that the company may also expand its Spanish tapas concept Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! beyond Chicago and Las Vegas, and open more branches of the Magic Pan Crepe Stand, a two-unit creperie. —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.

A consulting project to develop a buffet in the Flamingo hotel-casino in Las Vegas has been on hold since Harrah’s Entertainment bought out the former owners, Brown said. —With several openings planned for 2008, the prolific upscale- and casual-dining innovator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding several existing concepts and opening a few new ones as 2007 winds down.