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Restaurants Unlimited retools brands

Multiconcept operator Restaurants Unlimited Inc. has been recapitalized as a slightly smaller restaurant group and brands are being reworked with new menus and spruced up operations, chief executive Norman Abdallah said.

The Seattle-based operator of 49 restaurants across 14 brands — such as Kincaid’s, Palomino and Pizzeria Fondi — has a “solid balance sheet” as a result of the recapitalization, Abdallah said this week, but he declined to provide details of the transaction.

He confirmed, however, that nine restaurants have been closed, some due to lease expirations, but most as part of the recapitalization plan. RUI, however, has not made decisions about whether some brands may be sold off, he noted.

Under the recapitalization, Sun Capital Partners Inc., the Boca Raton, Fla.-based private-equity firm that bought into the company in 2007, remains the majority partner, Abdallah said.

When he joined the company in March 2009, Abdallah said RUI’s systemwide sales were sinking into double-digit negative numbers. After spending the past year reworking several of the company’s key brands, he said the restaurants are now seeing sales turn positive, with some brands reaching double-digit sales increases.

Key in the company’s efforts over the past year was re-establishing each brand as a unique entity, Abdallah said.

“It’s been about making sure the brands were all separate, individual brands, rather than having cross menu items,” he said.

RUI, for example, hired restaurant consultants Elizabeth Blau and Kim Canteenwalla to rework the menu of the Palomino brand, which has eight locations across the country. The new menu takes a “market-to-table perspective,” with emphasis on local artisanal food vendors, Abdallah said.

In Seattle, for example, the menu might focus more on local seafood and salumi makers, he said, while in Indianapolis the emphasis might be more on local meat producers.

“We’ve seen very good results from the two Palominos we’ve relaunched,” he said.

RUI brought in Chili’s founder Larry Lavine as a consultant for another one its brands, the iconic Henry’s Tavern in downtown Portland, Ore., which is in the final phase of its revamp, Abdallah said.

The nine-unit Stanford’s brand, which Abdallah called the “stronghold” of the Pacific Coast Restaurants Inc. group that RUI acquired in 2007, also has been reconcepted to bring the brand back to its roots. In addition to resurrecting menu items that were once old favorites, prices at Stanford’s were lowered and the company launched a marketing campaign announcing, “We’re back.”

Kincaid’s, the company’s largest brand with 14 locations, is also getting a new menu, which has been tested at a unit in Redondo Beach, Calif., said Abdallah, who noted that the menu would be in place by the end of September.

In addition, RUI is developing a new brand for one 30-year-old location, which Abdallah declined to name but said that it was known for its view.

“Some of our sites are so unique, it’s some of the best real estate you’ll see,” he said. “But it may not be the best for the brand.”

The nine restaurants that RUI has shuttered over the past year include a Kincaid’s in Milwaukee, three Newport Bay locations, two Pizzeria Fondi units, one Stanford’s and two Palomino restaurants. Three were closed because of expired leases, Abdallah said, and the rest closed as part of the recapitalization.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].

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