Ruby Tuesday turns fast-casual experiment into full-service Asian concept

MARYVILLE Tenn. Ruby Tuesday Inc. has converted the Asian fast-casual concept it bought last summer for $1 million into a full-service operation, according to a securities filing. The revamped restaurant retained the name Wok Hay, a Chinese expression for dishes that have been cooked adeptly in a wok.

Separately, a Ruby Tuesday executive told Nation’s Restaurant News that the casual-dining company is hunting for a site to develop a second Wok Hay restaurant. That restaurant will also offer tableservice, he said. 

Ruby Tuesday, operator or franchisor of 900 namesake dinnerhouses, is not the only casual specialist to experiment with an Asian venture. The Cheesecake Factory Inc. is scheduled to open its new RockSugar Pan Asian Kitchen on June 19 in Los Angeles.

B.R. Guest, a New York City-based multi-concept restaurant operator, now has two Ruby Foo’s outlets in its native city. Columbus, Ohio-based Cameron Mitchell Restaurants counts a similarly styled Molly Woo’s Asian Bistro among its eight concepts. New York fine-dining veterans Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Phil Suarez have included Miami and Atlanta in the list of cities worldwide where they intended to open a branch of their highly successful Spice Market concept in their base city.

Earlier efforts to launch an Asian casual chain have met with decidedly mixed results. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro has established itself as a major brand in the field, but the upscale entrant’s parent company attempted to sell a controlling interest in a second full-service Asian venture, Taneko Japanese Tavern. The would-be buyer, seasoned Dallas-based operator Jack Baum, apparently called off the deal.

In the mid-1990s, Red Lobster parent Darden Restaurants Inc. developed and subsequently shuttered several dozen China Coast restaurants.

Ruby Tuesday bought the lone Wok Hay, in Knoxville, Tenn., in July 2007. At that time it featured the limited service style that is typical of fast-casual concepts.

In disclosing the deal last fall to investors, the company described Wok Hay as “an opportunity for research and development.”