Skip navigation

Former Outback exec ‘re-energized’ by new concept

Chris Sullivan, co-founder of the Tampa, Fla.-based Outback Steakhouse chain, says he has been re-energized by the launch of his new Mediterranean, upscale-casual concept, Carmel Café & Wine Bar.

Sullivan, who has opened two Carmel Café units in Clearwater, Fla., and suburban Tampa, spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about his plans for the new concept.

He said he plans to open a third location in South Tampa and anticipates that the restaurants will generate about $2 million each.

The concept features iPad ordering and servers who wear their own clothes in an atmosphere marked by murals and 70 wines from around the world.

Watch Sullivan discuss Carmel Café; story continues below

Carmel Café differs significantly from Outback Steakhouse and its sister brands Bonefish Grill and Carrabba’s Italian Grill, but Sullivan said he has enjoyed the opportunity to be more creative with Carmel’s menu options and flavors.

Sullivan joins a growing list of former chain executives who have moved from large-volume concepts to smaller, more niche operations. They include:

Bob Basham, Sullivan’s pal and fellow Outback co-founder, who started a quick-service chicken concept called PDQ in Tampa. The first PDQ location is scheduled to open in south Tampa in the next two weeks.

Nick Vojnovic, former president of the company that owned the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s sports-pub chain, has become a partner in a quick-service Greek concept called Little Greek Restaurant. The chain has four Tampa Bay area units and one in Texas and is set to open another Tampa location

Bill Whitaker, founder of the fast-casual sandwich-salad Crispers chain in Lakeland, Fla., has launched an upscale sandwich and wine bistro called Press 101 in Lakeland and Orlando. He plans to open a third unit in Florida.

Ned Lidvall, former Friendly’s chief executive, has joined forces with three restaurant veterans, including Mike Stack of McAlister’s Deli, to expand the single-unit Jackson, Miss.-based Babalu Tacos and Tapas to other markets.

Bill Shumate, the founder of several casual-dining restaurants, has launched a three-unit, upscale burger concept called Square 1 Burgers & Bar. The concept has one unit in south Tampa and two units in Sarasota, Fla.

Read more about Chris Sullivan in the Having Words With feature in the Nov. 7 edition of the Nation’s Restaurant News.

Contact Alan Snel at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @AlanSnelNRN

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.