Wednesday, August 12, 2009

P.F. Chang's bets $10M on new 'balance' concept

Food with integrity, the effective rallying cry of Chipotle Mexican Grill, has a high-profile new proponent. P.F. Chang's announced today that it's providing a $10-million loan to fund expansion of True Food Kitchen, a restaurant concept aimed at consumers who want a "more balanced lifestyle," in Chang's words. Among the new brand's signatures is the use of ingredients grown locally or at least within the store's region.

In announcing the deal, Chang's noted that it has an option to buy a controlling interest in the now-single-unit concept.

True Food was developed by Phoenix concept creator Sam Fox and the popular author Andrew Weill, an M.D. who runs a Tempe health facility called the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. He's the parent of integrative medicine, which holds that true wellness entails balance in mind, body and spirit. No doubt he burns a lot of incense.

The relationship is probably making Chang's feel better already. The parent of a namesake casual chain and a fast-casual sidekick, Pei Wei Asian Diner, has been struggling with those brands as of late, as have most of its competitors.

True Food sounds like shares more in common with Seasons 52, Darden Restaurants' smash hit of a casual concept, than with any other chain restaurant out there. And the name suggests it professes the same aversion to heavily processed food that has set Chipotle apart in the limited-service sector.

True Food's menu includes pastas, pizzas, salads, tuna sliders, house-made sodas sweetened with agave nectar or honey, 13 vegetarian selections, and 10 gluten-free choices.

It's a mix that Chang's apparently finds irresistible.

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