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BJ’s founders to open fast-casual concept

Stacked to feature self-service ordering, customization at the table

The two founders of BJ’s Restaurants Inc. said they will launch a new fast-casual concept this spring that will allow customers to order and customize their meals from tabletop iPads.

Paul Motenko and Jerry Hennessy said Wednesday the first location of the new brand, called “Stacked: food well built,” will open in May in Torrance, Calif. Two more locations are expected to open this year in San Diego and Cerritos, Calif.

At Stacked, guests use iPads mounted at the table to select signature items from the menu or build their own meal from options that will include hamburgers, pizza, salads or sausages. For example, a customer might order salmon, then choose from various buns, toppings and sauces to create a sandwich, or build it over a salad created from a list of more than 35 ingredients.

The menu will also include beer and wine, as well as customizable milkshakes and ice cream sandwiches.

Once the order is placed on the iPad, a server delivers the food to tables and tends to guests. At the end of the meal, guests can pay by using a card-swipe system.

“In the end, it’s all about the food and experience for the guest,” Motenko said in an interview Wednesday. “To me, the iPad and the technology is a means to the end, a way to facilitate the experience for the guest and to offer terrific value.”

Motenko described Stacked as a “fast-casual plus” concept because the restaurant will run with a streamlined labor structure more similar to the fast-casual segment while offering guests a full-service experience. He said the average check at Stacked is expected to be under $10.

Motenko also said the restaurant would appeal to a growing number of consumers who like to customize their meals.

“So many people are so much more sophisticated. They want it the way they want it,” he said. “Stacked is somewhat a reflection of that trend.”

As guests build their dish, the iPad will give a visual picture of the item and indicate how the addition -- or deletion -- of specific ingredients will impact pricing, unlike most restaurants that will take the cheese off a burger if requested, for example, but won’t change the price.

Down the road, the founders plan to add nutrition data to the menu software so guests can get specific information about calories, for example, as they build their meal.

Restaurants across the country have increasingly found uses for Apple’s iPads. Some use the portable devices for their wine lists, others as a point-of-sale ordering system.

iPad becoming a sales tool for restaurants
iPad POS use rising among restaurants

At the table at Stacked, the iPads will have a mount to hold them, but they can be passed around. One iPad will be offered for every four guests. Paper menus will also be on the table to allow guests to peruse while someone orders on the iPad.

The Stacked concept will be operated by Stacked Restaurants LLC, based in Irvine, Calif. The first restaurant will be about 6,300 square feet and seat 160. Motenko said the company plans to build out California, but then the concept will be franchised as it grows outside its home state.

He said he developed the menu, after spending “two of the greatest years of my culinary life” traveling and researching the best burgers, pizza, salads and sausages.

The BJ’s pizza concept was founded in 1978, but the company was reinvented in 1991 when its operators came to accountants Motenko and Hennessy for guidance. The two bought the company and began expanding slowly. They took the company public in 1996, when it had six units.

At the end of its fourth quarter ended Dec. 28, Huntington Beach, Calif.-based BJ’s operated 102 restaurants under the BJ’s Restaurant & Brewery, BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, and BJ’s Pizza & Grill brand names.

Motenko and Hennessy stepped down from BJ’s board at the end of 2008 to focus on their new venture, though they remained significant shareholders.

CORRECTION: Paul Motenko and Jerry Hennessy took over the pizza company that became BJ's Restaurants Inc. in 1991. An earlier version of this story contained the incorrect year.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].

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