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Uno unveils new look, plans fast-casual launch

WEST ROXBURY Mass. Casual-dining operator Uno Chicago Grill has debuted an upgraded prototype as it prepares to introduce a more downscale fast-casual operation called Uno Due Go early next year.

The 200-plus-unit brand launched its latest Uno Chicago Grill incarnation -- known internally as "Uno plus" -- in Swampscott, Mass., a suburb about 20 miles north of Boston. Chief executive and president Frank Guidara projects the 185-seat, 5,700-square-foot location will generate sales that are 20 percent to 40 percent higher than the chain's average unit volume of about $2.3 million.

Guidara, who said the outlet had been in development for more than a year, is targeting a broader customer base with some more "upscale" elements like wine and ingredient displays, lighter colors and finishes, flat-screen televisions and a display kitchen.

Guidara said the prototype -- which is slightly smaller than the average Uno -- is more environmentally friendly than previous locations and uses a number of greener construction materials. The kitchen also includes some green elements, like induction cooking and a ventilation hood that turns itself on and off, depending upon the level of heat.

The prototype features an updated version of Uno's menu, with a number of additions that are scheduled to be rolled out systemwide and textual descriptions for each selection. The items new to the chain include chicken Milanese, a spicy shrimp quesadilla, rosemary chicken and a steak quesadilla made with Angus beef.

In addition, a new barbecue sauce was developed for Uno by New York chef David Burke and Samuel Adams beer.

Asecond restaurant sporting the new design is scheduled to debut in Winter Garden, Fla., in December.

While developing stores with the updated format, Uno also plans to retrofit existing units with some of the design elements. Guidara said an incentive program has been developed to encourage franchisees to incorporate the changes.

Meanwhile, Uno is preparing to open two units of the new fast-casual concept, Uno Due Go, in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport in late March or April. Guidara said the concept would feature a scaled-down menu and include pizza, sandwiches and soups. The average per-person check is projected to be $6 to $8.

Guidara said Uno Due Go gives the company a vehicle to expand into previously untapped venues, including airports, college campuses, sports facilities, food courts and malls. The concept is designed to encompass about 2,600 square feet, although the two Dallas-Fort Worth locations will be smaller, he said.

Uno Chicago Grill, which is owned by Centre Partners Management LLC, generated systemwide sales of $440.9 million for the fiscal year ended Sept. 2006, a 2.5-percent increase over $430.1 million in the previous year, according to Nation's Restaurant News research. Guidara said the chain has logged sales increases over the past seven quarters.

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