Vapiano cooks up new U.S. CEO, growth capital

MCLEAN Va. Vapiano International LLC, a European fast-casual company, has appointed former Legal Sea Food director of operations Bill Bessette to the post of chief executive of its U.S. operations.

Separately, the six-year-old company said Tuesday it recently received about $62 million from three European banks to help fund expansion. Vapiano, which is based in Hamburg, Germany, and operates nearly 45 restaurants in 14 countries, also said it has teamed up with a strategic equity firm that agreed to provide a further $7 million for growth.

Bessette will oversee Vapiano’s U.S. arm, which is based in McLean, Va., and includes three locations in the Washington, D.C., area and one in Fort Myers, Fla. Vapiano’s also expects to open a fourth Washington-area restaurant this year. Its concept is based on made-to-order pizzas, house-made pasta and hand-tossed gourmet salads.

During Bessette’s tenure at Legal Sea Food, the Boston-based dinnerhouse chain grew from 10 restaurants to 32.

In addition to Bessette, Vapiano’s U.S. management team includes vice president of operations Phil Hill, who previously served as regional director at Legal Sea Food. Laurette Farmer, who was with Potbelly Sandwich Works, has been named general manager/training manager, and Marcos Rodriquez, previously a chef at Legal Sea Food, was named Vapiano’s chef.

Kent Hahn, president and founder of Vapiano, said: “Many American companies fail in Europe because they simply transport their U.S. systems and employees, and let them build their concepts exactly the way they are in the U.S. … I want to steer clear of that with Vapiano and be sure that I hired a reliable and experienced U.S. team with high-volume restaurant experience to adjust the concept and make it fit here in the U.S.”

The company said it plans to nearly double its size internationally by the end of 2009 with openings slated for Mexico, Australia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia and France.

Vapiano also said it has closed deals to open six outlets in Florida, 10 in Dallas, two in San Jose, five in Houston and one each in Boston, Detroit and Atlanta.

The company said its same-store sales increased by 20 percent during 2008.