Homestyle Dining CEO talks new execs, prototypes

Homestyle Dining CEO talks new execs, prototypes

Sacco was named president and CEO for the Ponderosa and Bonanza parent in February 2013.

Homestyle Dining LLC, parent to Ponderosa and Bonanza steakhouse restaurant brands, has named Matt Gabay as its new chief financial officer, the company said Thursday.

Gabay joins Plano, Texas-based Homestyle from his most recent position as general manager and chief financial officer at Walls Forms Inc. of Coppell, Texas. He also has served as CFO and chief operating officer of Paris Texas Hardware, a division of Hunter Douglas.

“Matt’s extensive management and financial expertise will contribute significantly to our ability to drive growth for our steakhouse brands,” said Thomas A. Sacco, who was named president and chief executive of Homestyle Dining earlier this year.

Homestyle Dining operates and franchises about 200 Ponderosa and Bonanza steakhouses in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, Asia and the Middle East.It was one of the companies that emerged from the Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation filings in July 2008 by Metromedia Restaurant Group, which also owned the Steak & Ale and Bennigan’s brands.

In late February, Homestyle made several other hires and promotions, including: Dave McDonald joining the company in the new position of senior vice president of purchasing, quality assurance and distribution; Ed Herman being promoted to vice president of company operations; Seth Grossman being promoted to vice president and treasurer; Al Good being named as director of culinary operations; and Andy Short being named as director of operations support to oversee training and information technology.

Soon after Sacco was named president of Homestyle, he talked with Nation’s Restaurant News about some of his plans for the company.

What do all of the promotions and hires mean for Homestyle?

It means really good things. We went through bankruptcy in 2008, and the chapter after coming out of bankruptcy was making sure we got all our financial ducks in a row and got our feet on sound ground. Now we're ramping up.

What are you doing to ramp up?

We’re in the process of building a new concept here in Texas, a next generation of steakhouse. Our franchise systems sales were up for 2012. There are a lot of real good things going on.

Steakhouse for the next generation

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What can you share about the new prototype you're planning?

I can’t give you too much detail, but the code name for it is “Steakhouse Next Generation.” We’re taking our current brands and moving them into a direction where we think nobody has been. There’s a lot of retro-history … but it’s very contemporary.

What’s your target customer?

[The new steakhouse] would do very well with the folks who would dine, let’s say, at a Chipotle or people that would maybe go to Whiskey Cake [a Plano, Texas casual-dining concept from Front Burner Restaurants, the parent to Twin Peaks]. It will have those kinds of urban, hip elements. It’s exciting.

What are your challenges?

It’s a tough time in the industry right now because commodities are all over the place. Chicken prices are up. Beef prices are up. Our operators are under pressure, but last year was a good year for us. The system as a whole was up almost two points. We’re making some progress and seeing guest-count growth.

Are there opportunities for the buffet segment in this market?

The buffet segment as a whole is challenged, because it has expanded to the point where there is not much else you can do. It has become so protein-driven, and so one-up-man-ship.

We’re stepping back and looking at the products and putting an emphasis on quality as opposed to quantity. … We want people to say Ponderosa and Bonanza have great salads or great breads. … We’re looking at how to enhance the quality of the products. That’s the direction we're going, and we’re getting traction with that.

What themes are you focusing on now?

We’re focusing on getting back to basics. We’re focusing on a lot of scratch-baked, scratch-made products in house. Most of our restaurants have in-house bakeries, but hardly anyone knows that. We make all of our soups in house, and I’d put them up against any full-service, casual-dining restaurant. There’s a huge emphasis being placed back on quality, and the focus is on guest service.

You have talked about discussions for developing the Ponderosa brand in Egypt. What is your view toward international development?

We’re in a bunch of international markets. We’re in Taiwan, Singapore, the Philippines and all over the Middle East in Qatar, Dubai, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. We’re talking to people in Turkey right now. We’ve got a lot of activity going on. They like steaks overseas. Egypt is a brand new country sale for us.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: March 15, 2013 
An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Paris Texas Hardware.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected] [7].
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