Café Enterprises Inc., the parent company of casual-dining restaurant chain FATZ and two new brands, Tablefields Market Kitchen and Tavern 24, is looking for the next few years to include growth, especially as results at its new concepts have exceeded projections.
The two new brands debuted this summer with one location each in Greenville, S.C. Café Enterprises chief executive Jim Balis said the company expects two new locations and more shortly, while the company’s flagship, FATZ, continues its redesign project. FATZ currently totals 48 locations in five states.
One of the new brands, Tavern 24, features craft beers, a large beverage component and menu items including burgers, bakedwings and salads. It’s not a sports bar per se, Balis said, but rather a great place to catch a game and eat.
Tablefields’ key differentiator is that everything is locally sourced, Balis noted. Even the art on the walls is sourced from local artists.
Balis spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News to discuss each brand’s success so far, as well as Café Enterprises plans to expand the restaurant concepts beyond South Carolina.
What have sales been like so far at Tavern 24 and Tablefields?
We’ve been extremely excited about the results of both concepts. Both have exceeded what our original projections were for the restaurants. The feedback we’ve been getting from our guests has been phenomenal. However, our private equity firm [Milestone Partners] won’t allow us to disclose our specific sales numbers. But I can tell you that the Tavern 24 location was actually a prior FATZ location. The Tavern 24 almost doubled the sales of what we were doing as FATZ.
Why did these concepts launch concurrently?
We had both sort of in the hopper and it just looked like the leases and agreements lined up at the same time. Under normal circumstances, we may have done it differently.
Obviously, when you’re opening up two new concepts it’s not ideal to open them as closely as we did. But the operations team did a great job handling the situation.
Why did these open over the summer?
Again, it was a matter of construction, signing leases. It wasn’t really planned. Ideally, in the future, we’d like to open the new Tavern 24s alongside college football season, especially being in the Southeast. With Tablefields, we’d ideally open in the spring.
Tell me about the brands. What makes them different from your competitors?
Speaking about Tavern 24 first: We really wanted to do a sports-themed restaurant. It’s not really a sports bar. We wanted to do [a bar along] with a strong food focus. Food first is something that is very important to our brand. At Tablefields, it’s a fast-casual concept that serves beer and wine and a lot of made-to-order, center-of-the-plate items, like pot roast and chicken and pizza.
Tablefields, from a food perspective, is locally sourced. As we look to expand into certain markets, we’ll plan to do the same. We’re already sourcing products from local markets, be it cheese, meat, vegetables and produce. Even our iced tea is locally sourced. The sauce in one of our chicken dishes is from a local supplier. Our coffee is from a local roaster.
We also wanted to keep the affordability factor. No meals at Tablefields are more than $10, and at Tavern 24, we have burgers in the $5 range.
You menus appear to have a lot of lighter options. Was this part of the branding for Tavern 24 and Tablefields?
Given where people’s awareness of nutrition and eating better now is, we’re trying to include a lot of those lighter healthier options that might not be available at competitors. One thing that we really wanted to do as part of the food-first focus was rolling out fresh-cut salmon and a fresh-cut cod. We use fresh, healthy products whereas a lot of our competitors use frozen products.
How much do you expect each to grow during the next year? 5 years?
We expect to open at least two Tablefields at the start of next year. We have an aggressive growth plan in mind.
It’s hard to say exactly how quickly we’ll expand. We’d like to put in between two and four units next year of each concept, and more in 2014. We’re also going through a renovation process for our existing FATZ restaurants, which we’re very excited about as well. That will dictate how many we plan to build.
Will this growth be franchised?
In the near term it’s going to be organic, but in 2014 and beyond we expect it to be franchise growth.
Where are you hoping to expand?
We are looking at Charlotte and Atlanta, and the outer locations of both of those markets, and we’re looking into Chattanooga, Tenn., as well.
In an April interview with NRN, you mentioned that if Tavern 24 was a successful concept, it could replace FATZ as Café Enterprise’s casual-dining growth vehicle. Is that on track?
I think that’s changed to a degree based upon a new renovation project at FATZ. While we expect to grow Tavern 24, I don’t think it will be our exclusive growth chain going forward.
There are some [locations] that are not as conducive to a tavern concept as they are to a regular casual-dining concept. So, we want to be careful about not just flipping the switch and changing FATZ into Tavern 24.