Schiller, Del Grande on growth course with buyback of Cafe Express chain

Schiller, Del Grande on growth course with buyback of Cafe Express chain

HOUSTON —Acclaimed chef Robert Del Grande, business leader Lonnie Schiller and their longtime financialally Redstone Capital Partners, after regaining control of the seminal fast-casual chain Cafe Express, appear intent on shedding the “over-institutionalized” tone the bistros had under Wendy’s International ownership.

The Schiller Del Grande Restaurant Group also is poised to reinvent its fine-dining flagship Cafe Annie here and launch several other foodservice ventures now that 18-unit Cafe Express is back under its corporate umbrella. —Acclaimed chef Robert Del Grande, business leader Lonnie Schiller and their longtime financialally Redstone Capital Partners, after regaining control of the seminal fast-casual chain Cafe Express, appear intent on shedding the “over-institutionalized” tone the bistros had under Wendy’s International ownership.

Burger giant Wendy’s, which first invested in Cafe Express in 2001 and later increased its stake to 70 percent before buying the entire business at no added cost last February under terms of a partnership pact, sold the 23-year-old chain back to the Redstone-Schiller-Del Grande team July 29 for undisclosed terms. —Acclaimed chef Robert Del Grande, business leader Lonnie Schiller and their longtime financialally Redstone Capital Partners, after regaining control of the seminal fast-casual chain Cafe Express, appear intent on shedding the “over-institutionalized” tone the bistros had under Wendy’s International ownership.

Though Cafe Express helped define “fast casual” after its 1984 debut by featuring moderately priced European fare, wines at bargain prices and a self-service gourmet condiment bar in a stylish, counter-service setting, Wendy’s didn’t grow the chain beyond its Houston and Dallas trading areas, presumably because of challenging per-location economics. —Acclaimed chef Robert Del Grande, business leader Lonnie Schiller and their longtime financialally Redstone Capital Partners, after regaining control of the seminal fast-casual chain Cafe Express, appear intent on shedding the “over-institutionalized” tone the bistros had under Wendy’s International ownership.

In 2003, one year after Wendy’s initial $9 million investment, Cafe Express added six locations and boosted per-restaurant sales to a reported $2.1 million average per typical 6,000-square-foot branch. A year later Wendy’s increased its equity stake from 45 percent to 70 percent, but no more expansion took place. Cafe Express last year generated sales of $32 million, or about $1.9 million per location. —Acclaimed chef Robert Del Grande, business leader Lonnie Schiller and their longtime financialally Redstone Capital Partners, after regaining control of the seminal fast-casual chain Cafe Express, appear intent on shedding the “over-institutionalized” tone the bistros had under Wendy’s International ownership.

Also undisclosed was the proportional ownership of Cafe Express by the Houston-based Schiller-Del Grande group and Redstone Capital, the private-equity arm of the Redstone Cos. of Houston. Redstone Capital’s website says the company typically invests between $5 million and $15 million in enterprises valued at up to $50 million. —Acclaimed chef Robert Del Grande, business leader Lonnie Schiller and their longtime financialally Redstone Capital Partners, after regaining control of the seminal fast-casual chain Cafe Express, appear intent on shedding the “over-institutionalized” tone the bistros had under Wendy’s International ownership.

Redstone Cos. owns the Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa and several financial and oil-andgas businesses. —Acclaimed chef Robert Del Grande, business leader Lonnie Schiller and their longtime financialally Redstone Capital Partners, after regaining control of the seminal fast-casual chain Cafe Express, appear intent on shedding the “over-institutionalized” tone the bistros had under Wendy’s International ownership.

The alliance between Schiller, Del Grande and Redstone dates back to 1994. Since that time the partners have focused on Cafe Annie; the offshoot Bar Annie; expansion of the fast-casual Taco Milagro Restaurant & Beach Bar to four Houston area locations; and Rio Ranch, a casual steak-house in the Westchase Hilton Hotel in Houston that Redstone sold to Meristar Hotels in 1998 but that Schiller and Del Grande have continued to service as creative consultants. —Acclaimed chef Robert Del Grande, business leader Lonnie Schiller and their longtime financialally Redstone Capital Partners, after regaining control of the seminal fast-casual chain Cafe Express, appear intent on shedding the “over-institutionalized” tone the bistros had under Wendy’s International ownership.

The group also oversaw Cafe Express under Wendy’s ownership tenure, but that relationship was not as fruitful as either party had hoped it would be. —Acclaimed chef Robert Del Grande, business leader Lonnie Schiller and their longtime financialally Redstone Capital Partners, after regaining control of the seminal fast-casual chain Cafe Express, appear intent on shedding the “over-institutionalized” tone the bistros had under Wendy’s International ownership.

Schiller, who is chief executive of the group, said Cafe Express had become “a little over-institutionalized” during the Wendy’s era, which ended shortly after Wendy’s sold off such other noncore chains as Tim Hortons and Baja Fresh Mexican Grill [3]. —Acclaimed chef Robert Del Grande, business leader Lonnie Schiller and their longtime financialally Redstone Capital Partners, after regaining control of the seminal fast-casual chain Cafe Express, appear intent on shedding the “over-institutionalized” tone the bistros had under Wendy’s International ownership.

The buyback of Cafe Express comes at a time when Schiller and Del Grande are looking to relaunch their upscale flagship, which became a destination for lovers of inventive, contemporary Southwestern cuisine after it was launched in Houston more than 25 years ago. The team also is readying several other restaurants for openings in the next several months. —Acclaimed chef Robert Del Grande, business leader Lonnie Schiller and their longtime financialally Redstone Capital Partners, after regaining control of the seminal fast-casual chain Cafe Express, appear intent on shedding the “over-institutionalized” tone the bistros had under Wendy’s International ownership.

The new version of Cafe Annie, which was inducted into the Nation’s Restaurant News Fine Dining Hall of Fame in 1988, is being created because the site of the original restaurant is scheduled to be redeveloped. —Acclaimed chef Robert Del Grande, business leader Lonnie Schiller and their longtime financialally Redstone Capital Partners, after regaining control of the seminal fast-casual chain Cafe Express, appear intent on shedding the “over-institutionalized” tone the bistros had under Wendy’s International ownership.

The Schiller-Del Grande group also is developing two new restaurant concepts it will operate in downtown Houston’s [4] $122 million, 12-acre Discovery Green park, slated to open next March 1. —Acclaimed chef Robert Del Grande, business leader Lonnie Schiller and their longtime financialally Redstone Capital Partners, after regaining control of the seminal fast-casual chain Cafe Express, appear intent on shedding the “over-institutionalized” tone the bistros had under Wendy’s International ownership.

The first of those restaurants, called The Grove, would debut this December as a 10,000-square-foot operation similar to Bar Annie. The Grove, to feature “upper-end casual dining,” is being designed by Candice Schiller, Lonnie Schiller’s wife and a partner in the group. —Acclaimed chef Robert Del Grande, business leader Lonnie Schiller and their longtime financialally Redstone Capital Partners, after regaining control of the seminal fast-casual chain Cafe Express, appear intent on shedding the “over-institutionalized” tone the bistros had under Wendy’s International ownership.

As with all the company’s other concepts, the menu of the new restaurants are being developed by Del Grande, whose string of accolades include a regional “best chef” nod from the James Beard Foundation and recognition as a pioneer of modern Southwestern cuisine. His wife, Mimi, also is a partner in the company and oversees human resources. She is Candice Schiller’s sister. —Acclaimed chef Robert Del Grande, business leader Lonnie Schiller and their longtime financialally Redstone Capital Partners, after regaining control of the seminal fast-casual chain Cafe Express, appear intent on shedding the “over-institutionalized” tone the bistros had under Wendy’s International ownership.

The second Discovery Green restaurant, called The Boathouse, would open in February. The company envisions it as a family-friendly, fast-casual concept with burgers, hot dogs, salads and shakes. —Acclaimed chef Robert Del Grande, business leader Lonnie Schiller and their longtime financialally Redstone Capital Partners, after regaining control of the seminal fast-casual chain Cafe Express, appear intent on shedding the “over-institutionalized” tone the bistros had under Wendy’s International ownership.

Last year, the original Taco Milagro, launched in 1998, spawned branches in three other areas of Houston: Baybrook, Willowbrook and The Woodlands. —Acclaimed chef Robert Del Grande, business leader Lonnie Schiller and their longtime financialally Redstone Capital Partners, after regaining control of the seminal fast-casual chain Cafe Express, appear intent on shedding the “over-institutionalized” tone the bistros had under Wendy’s International ownership.