At Carmine’s, size definitely matters, but quality is still king, according to Jeff Bank, president and chief executive of Alicart Restaurant Group, parent of the family-style Italian concept.
Parent company: Alicart Restaurant Group
Headquarters: New York
Market segment: casual
Menu: classic southern Italian
No. of units: 5
Systemwide sales: approximately $80 million
Check average: $28-$32
Leadership: Jeff Bank, chief executive; Gary Bologna, chief operating officer; Brian Kjos, consulting director of development
Year founded: 1990
Method of growth/funding: privately funded
Notable competitors: “There really are no competitors that do what we do.”
Target markets: Boston, Las Vegas, Orlando, Fla.
Everything at Carmine’s is big, from the size of each restaurant to the portions to the flavors of the southern Italian-style food. Compare the experience to a big, Italian get- together, Bank said.
“Imagine you’re at an Italian wedding or at Grandma’s on Sunday night, only it’s a giant, old-world kind of thing with lots of tables and an open floor [plan],” he said. “The food is served on huge platters. It’s the wow factor.”
With five restaurants in operation — two in New York, one in Atlantic City, N.J., another in the Bahamas and the latest, a 20,000-square-foot homage to southern Italian home-style cooking that opened in Washington, D.C., last month — Carmine’s is intent on growing its family. Near-term plans call for expansion into the Boston, Las Vegas and Orlando, Fla., markets, and the long-term goal is to build at least one new restaurant a year.
The 20-year-old company, which projects 2010 sales of $80 million, currently is eyeing expansion mainly on the East Coast, but Brian Kjos of Sequoia Restaurant and Entertainment Group, business development consultants for Alicart, said the company has been talking to the Walt Disney Co. to take over several recently closed ESPN Zone locations and convert them into Carmine’s units. A deal, however, has not yet been struck.
So far, Alicart’s biggest project has been the opening of the new restaurant in Washington, D.C., a 700-seat affair geared to attract locals and tourists alike.
“For Carmine’s, specifically, as large as [its restaurants] are and given the volumes they do, [the stores] need to be in trade [areas] that have velocity and are great flagship locations on par with what they do in New York City,” he said. “That’s what led us to the new location in D.C.”
Kjos said the store, which is located in the Penn Quarter neighborhood, met all of those requirements. “It had everything,” he said, “from overlays from the Smithsonian to businesses, tourism and the Verizon Center. We knew there would be multilayers that would drive the volumes we were looking for.”
Despite multiple locations, Bank refuses to call Carmine’s a chain.
“Yes, this is a big concept,” he said, “but we really work very hard to stay away from the perception that Carmine’s is a chain. That word connotes certain things that we are not. A lot of times you go into a restaurant and can feel that chain mentality; you know, ‘What would you like with your fries?’ It can get a little redundant. We are a chain in terms of our back-of-the house systems and procedures, but we are not a chain in that we don’t batch cook anything in commissaries and ship it over.”
Founded on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in 1990 by the late Artie Cutler, Carmine’s initially was envisioned as a celebratory type of establishment where the food, though not extravagant, would be great-tasting and the service and atmosphere inviting and friendly. Not much has changed since then, Bank said.
He noted he is especially proud of Carmine’s food quality and claims it is what gives the concept its authenticity despite the restaurants’ big-box sizes. The menu is the same as it was the day the first store opened in 1990 — hearty and homelike.
“Our sauces are made from scratch, night and day,” he said. “The veal saltimbocca is the real deal. This is not nouveau cuisine; it’s penne ala vodka and fried calamari. We’ve got our food down pat. It is spot on.”
Along with great food, Bank claims Carmine’s appeal is the concept’s ability to be all things to all people and its value message. With a per-person check averaging between $28 and $32, consumers starved for a solid dining experience at an affordable price recognize that, he said.
“This brand can go anywhere,” he said. “It’s unique in that it targets a number of demographics: families, businesses, students and tourists. I believe that with our large portions and everything cooked to order, we offer tremendous value. It is comfort food for everyone.”
Contact Elissa Elan at [email protected].