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Mediterranean restaurant concepts look to expand

Mediterranean restaurant concepts look to expand

With Mediterranean cuisine heralded as one of the culinary trends to watch, two restaurant operators look to capitalize on the interest in the region’s food with franchising plans.

Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill Franchising LLC, a five-unit fast-casual chain in Denver and Naples Tomato Franchising LLC, a one-unit casual-dining operator with an emphasis on wine in Naples, Fla., both announced this week they would begin franchising their concepts. And at least one other operator, ChickPita Fresh Mediterranean Grill of Laguna Niguel, Calif., is working on a franchise program.

Nancy Kruse, founder of The Kruse Co. consultancy in Atlanta, said at the recent Menu Trends & Directions conference in Dallas that Mediterranean food is high on research and development executives’ radar because it fits in with the comfort that consumers are craving and the escape they have come to expect. Mediterranean cuisine is also healthful, she said, which is another hot trend consumers are seeking along with flavor and freshness.

From-scratch cooking and freshness with no preservatives or trans fats is a hallmark of Garbanzo chain, which was founded by Alon Mor.

“We want to offer fresh-made authentic dishes, but still allow customers to feel relaxed and welcome so we created a simple menu to walk customers through the ordering process,” Mor said.

Garbanzo units are typically 2,000 square feet and seat 65 to 85 guests. Guests can customize meals with items such as pita, falafel, shwarma, hummus, spiced rice, sauces and relishes.

Garbanzo said that in addition to franchise expansion, it was planning to build 10 additional stores in the next 14 months. An owner in the company is Ken Rosenthal, who founded St. Louis Bread Co./Panera Bread.

On the West Coast, ChickPita Fresh Mediterranean Grill of Laguna Niguel, Calif., which is about to open its second unit, is working with national franchise consultancy to expand the fast-casual concept. Founder Leo Timatyos said he is also considering Las Vegas for expansion.

Seeking to franchise on the East Coast is Naples Tomato of Naples, Fla., a four-year-old casual-dining restaurant that encourages to diners to sample wine through an in-house, debit-card-style wine dispenser that Naples Tomato dubs “Vine Dining.”

Naples Tomato’s franchise program was designed by iFranchise Group Inc. of Chicago and the Faegre Benson LLP law firm.

“We were inspired by the wonderful village restaurants that are institutions in the Mediterranean lifestyle, offering homemade food and imaginative wine lists,” said Jack Serfass, co-founder and co-owner of Naples Tomato.

The typical Naples Tomato store would cover 7,000 square feet and seat about 220. The concept has an open kitchen, bistro decor and extensive wine program. Naples Tomato has received honors from the Wine Spectator.

The company said its company-owned unit in Naples had revenues of nearly $3.16 million in 2008 and $3.18 million in 2007.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected].

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