Grill Concepts Inc. is moving forward with a growth plan that includes adding four to six units of its new Public School gastropub concept before the end of next year.

Grill Concepts, parent to the 20-unit Daily Grill chain and seven-unit Grill on the Alley concept, was publicly traded until late November 2013 and taken private late last year by longtime investor Charles Mathewson, who was the majority shareholder for the preceding four years. Mathewson is the retired investor and chair emeritus of gaming machine manufacturer International Game Technology Inc. and was a founder of financial firm Jefferies & Co.

Bob Spivak, Grill Concept’s president and chief executive, said Mathewson is now the sole owner of the Los Angeles-based company and is supporting growth for its four concepts.

Leading that growth is Public School, which Grill Concepts began testing in 2012 after converting the bar of a Daily Grill location in downtown Los Angeles.

Since then, the company has opened two more freestanding Public School units, each named for the area code of the location. The Public School in Culver City, Calif., for example, is P.S. 310, the area code for West Los Angeles, while Westlake Village, Calif., is P.S. 805.

A fourth Public School is planned for Sherman Oaks, Calif., before the end of 2014, Spivak said. Next year the concept is expected to open in Northern California, Texas — with locations in both Dallas and Houston — and Washington, D.C.

With a focus on craft beer and a chef-driven menu, Public School is designed to appeal to a younger demographic than Daily Grill or Grill on the Alley, said Spivak.

At Public School, there is no nationally advertised beer on the menu, but there is a wide selection of local microbrews and craft beers.

Spivak sees a world of opportunity in beer similar to that of wine three decades ago, when most Americans thought all red wine was Burgundy and all white wine was Chablis, he said. Now the average diner is much more wine savvy and understands a lot more about different varietals.

“Beer is in that spotlight now,” said Spivak.

While a relative few consumers fully understand the craft beer world and the differences among microbrews now, that will soon change.

Public School is designed to capture that interest by offering an “education in the art of food and beer,” said Spivak.

Guests can sample beers until they find something they like — and will likely return since the beer may not be widely available.

Casual dining has seen a “paradigm shift” in the past five years, said Spivak. A new genre of casual dining concepts is emerging, and Public School fits right in.

“The casual-dining market today is looking for non-chain chains,” said Spivak. “‘Chain’ is kind of a dirty word today. Now people are looking for high-energy restaurants with really quality hand-made food.”

The two Public School units open longer than a year have seen 10-percent same-store sales increases and average between $1,000 to $1,500 per square foot in sales, he said, with about 40 percent of sales coming from the bar. The restaurants are typically about 3,500 square feet.

Meanwhile, Grill Concepts is also growing its Daily Grill concept again. The company recently opened its 20th location in a casino in Northern California with a more modern prototype.

“I call it the 21st Century Daily Grill,” Spivak said.

Same-store sales for the Daily Grill chain have been in the 4 percent to 5 percent range, he said.

Grill on the Alley may also expand. Spivak said the company hopes to put one of the restaurants on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., soon.

The original Grill on the Alley, which opened in Beverly Hills, Calif., 30 years ago, remains a preferred “commissary to the entertainment industry,” said Spivak, where Hollywood agents and their clients gather to power-lunch on a regular basis.

Grill Concepts also has a coffeehouse concept, which it created for a hotel location of Daily Grill in Seattle. Dubbed “In Short Order,” the coffee concept is also available as secondary option where there is a need near one of the other restaurants.

Spivak is a founder of Grill Concepts who attempted retirement in 2006, only to be brought back to the CEO seat by Mathewson in 2010.

“I failed retirement,” Spivak said. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Contact Lisa Jennings at lisa.jennings@penton.com.
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout