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Front Burner launches fast-casual concept Peel

Peel is the latest concept from Front Burner Brands, a Tampa-based restaurant company that owns the Melting Pot, GrillSmith and Burger 21 restaurants. The new fast-casual establishment will be reminiscent of a Nordstrom Café, according to a company executive.

The inaugural Peel location will open in the Tampa Bay market. Although the deal for a Tampa-area unit fell through, Front Burner said it is committed to opening the first Peel restaurant in that city’s market, said Mark Johnston, Front Burner Brands chief concept officer.

“I really want to find a great site for the first one, and I’m being very picky,” Johnston said.

“We have worked on Peel very hard for a year and a half to two years. We have spent lots of time on this. It will be ready when we find that great site within a year,” he added. “It will happen. I want to be so sure of the first location.”

The concept name “Peel” has two meanings, Johnston said, as it’s both the tool used to slide a pizza into and out of an oven, and also the instrument used to peel vegetables.

Peel will offer pizzas, sandwiches, salads, soups and five or six entrees, such as salmon, steak, chicken and pasta, Johnston said. It will also serve breakfast. Customers will order at a counter and Peel staff will serve them tableside.

It will cost at least $400,000 to $500,000 to open the first Peel, which will need a staff of about 40 employees, Johnston estimated. Lunch tickets will average $11 and dinner tickets $13, he added.

Johnston’s brother Bob Johnston, Front Burner Brands chief executive, said Peel will have the atmosphere of a Panera Bread restaurant, offer pizzas in a manner reminiscent of California Pizza Kitchen, and have a culinary edge similar to a Wolfgang Puck restaurant.

Front Burner Brands just launched Burger 21 within the past year, so it will be a challenge to roll out a second concept so soon after a major opening, said Nick Vojnovic, former president of the parent company of the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s sports pub chain, and former director of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association.

“There is room for high-end pizza, but my concern for those guys is to grow multiple brands is very difficult,” said Vojnovic, a partner in a Greek concept called Little Greek.

“They did a nice job with Melting Pot. It takes a few years to shake a brand out and understand your customers and locations. It will be a challenge. Every store, you learn something new,” he said. “It’s tough, but there is room for upscale pizza.”

The first Peel restaurants will be company-owned, but Front Burner plans to expand the concept through franchising, Mark Johnston said.

Front Burner is primarily known for its Melting Pot brand, the 143-unit fondue concept. The company is also re-branding its six fine-casual GrillSmith stores and expanding Burger 21, a fast-casual concept offering upscale burgers.

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

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