Monday, September 19, 2011

'They keep pulling me back'

What is it about the restaurant industry that keeps pulling people back into the fray? In recent weeks we’ve had three more examples of grizzled vets who’ve made enough money to fund a life of leisure. But instead of spending their remaining days on a racetrack or golf course, they’re looking for a new restaurant concept to hatch or grow.

Consider, for instance, Brad Blum’s newfound interest in Cosi, the upscale sandwich concept. Blum rose to prominence as the cappo of Olive Garden, which was wheezing a bit when he took it over. He righted it and then moved on to Burger King, where a sale of the company did him no good. Most recently, he headed Romano’s Macaroni Grill, seemingly a natural fit after his stewardship of Olive Garden.

Last week Blum alerted the SEC that he’d amassed a 6.75% stake in Cosi. “As of Sept. 6, 2011, Blum Growth LLC is now an active investor,” Blum said through his investment concern.

The filing notes that Blum wants a say on the composition and top management of Cosi (its former CEO, Jim Hyatt, just resigned). I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that Blum wants a role in each governing body.

But he’s not the only vet who’s reactivated himself for a new restaurant challenge. Craig Nickoloff sold the high-volume Claim Jumper casual chain to the private equity company Leonard Green & Partners in 2005 for a reported $200 million. The amount seemed fitting for a concept that took the California gold rush as its theme.

Just to add a little icing to the case: Claim Jumper filed for bankruptcy a year ago.

Nickoloff could be kicking back with the wife he met while she was covering him and Claim Jumper for Nation’s Restaurant News, a distinction that made her a legend among those of us who write about the business (I’ve finally relinquished my dreams of a Rachel Rae Romeo, primarily because my current wife insisted.)

Instead, Nickoloff has teamed up with acclaimed West Coast chef Michael Cimarusti (of Providence restaurant) to buy Silver Spoon, described by Eater Los Angeles as “West Hollywood’s ancient coffee shop.” The pair hasn’t revealed its intentions for the space, but official filings say the location will do business as Connie and Ted’s.

Watchers are wondering if the venture might also involve Nickoloff’s son, Nick, who owns and operates three namesake restaurants.

Meanwhile, Ohio’s Cameron Mitchell is putting the finishing touches on his eighth Ocean Prime upscale “supper club,” in the Buckhead area of Atlanta. Two more branches are under development, according to Mitchell’s Columbus-based company.
The chain building comes just four years after Mitchell sold an earlier seafood chain, 19-unit Mitchell’s Fish Market, to Ruth’s Chris as part of a $94-million deal (two steakhouses were also part of the purchase).

To call Mitchell irrepressible is an understatement. I met him when he was sleeping on the floor of a co-worker’s hotel room so he could afford to attend an industry event. He was determined to open a restaurant concept of his own and wanted to learn everything he could.

Seems that desire has only grown stronger.

1 comment:

Peter Romeo said...

Add another big marquee name to the list of industry veterans looking to create another powerhouse: Domino's founder Tom Monaghan is reportedly launching a burger delivery concept in Florida.