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Daphne's embarks on revitalization program

New name, new look, and health-conscious menu items to upgrade concept

The revival of the Daphne’s Greek Café chain has begun with the renovation of two Southern California locations this month, offering a look at what the soon-to-be-renamed fast-casual concept will become in the months ahead.

Beginning in April, the 60-unit chain will be renamed Daphne’s California Greek,” and will begin rolling out menu changes that aim to position the brand as a more broadly defined Mediterranean concept with a focus on health.

The Daphne’s chain was acquired out of bankruptcy in August 2010 by Wreath Equity LLC. The brand, which at one time operated more than 80 units, had fallen victim to an aggressive overexpansion strategy further complicated by the recession, said William Trefethen, Daphne’s chief executive and principal investor in Wreath Equity.

The previously announced revamp aims to establish the restaurants as “a warmer place where people will want to hang out and have a glass of wine and dinner after work and before a movie,” Trefethen said.

A Daphne’s location in Aliso Viejo, Calif., has received a more comprehensive renovation, while a second near the company’s headquarters in Carlsbad, Calif., received a lighter brush up with “80-percent of the bang for 50-percent of the buck,” Trefethen said.

Describing Daphne’s new look as “W Hotels meets Starbucks,” Trefethen said the company is still evaluating what aspects of the décor will offer the best return on investment going forward. However, all units are scheduled to be reworked by the first quarter next year, he said. Higher volume stores will receive the upgrades first.

Other aspects will be put in place systemwide in April, including the new signage and logo package. All restaurants will shift to the use of china plates and silverware, for example, and the company is in the process of obtaining licenses to serve beer and wine.

In addition, the menu will begin evolving to include more healthful ingredients, such as whole-grain pita bread, as well as grilled meats and seafood. The menu will aim for most items to fall below 700 calories, with low-fat, gluten-free and vegetarian options.

Trefethen said the company also is working to reduce sodium across the menu.

Two new menu items to be rolled out this spring include a grilled Chilean salmon, priced at a recommended $9.99, which includes two sides, wheat or original pita, and tzatziki sauce. Also new is a California Greek salad for $7.99, which Trefethen described as a cross between a Greek and a cobb salad.

Prices will not increase on existing items, but Trefethen noted that the new, upgraded menu items might be priced slightly higher because of their quality, which are expected to increase the average check eventually.

Trefethen said the upgraded units also will invite local art schools to display the work of students. In addition, the new chief executive — who said he is also a musician — is personally developing a music playlist for the chain that will highlight West Coast bands.

Once the economics are worked out, the company plans to launch a franchise program next year, Trefethen said. “But we don’t want to embark on a franchising program until it’s fully tweaked.”

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].

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