Multi-concept operator the Innovative Dining Group, or IDG, is joining the growing number of U.S. restaurant companies to take their brands overseas for the first time.
The Los Angeles-based company opens its high-end-but-hip BOA Steakhouse concept in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates early next year, the first of several planned for the Middle East.
IDG is also known for its five-location Sushi Roku concept, as well as the new Soleto Trattoria & Pizza Bar — which opened earlier this summer — and the restaurants Katana, Delphine and Robata Bar, all in Los Angeles. The group also has two bars: Station Hollywood and The Living Room at the W Hotel in Hollywood.
And more is coming: IDG is scheduled to open a fine-dining Italian restaurant with acclaimed Los AngelesGino Angelini of Osteria Angelini, in November. Next door, a yet-to-be-named upscale Chinese concept is under development, and the company is scheduled to open a variant of BOA Steakhouse at Los Angeles International Airport called B Grill.
Meanwhile, the group has aggressive plans for domestic expansion, adding to existing locations of Sushi Roku in Las Vegas and Scottsdale, Ariz. One prime target for several brands is New York City.
Lee Maen, one of IDG’s founders and partner, spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News this week about the company’s plans for growth, new concepts and a possible move into the hotel business.
How did you end up in the Middle East with BOA?
It started during the last round, when they were developing Dubai a few years ago, before things slowed down for a bit. We looked at several deals, but it’s all about finding the right partner there. We met with the Tourism Development & Investment Company, or TDIC, which is like a government arm that’s charged with developing the whole country for tourism and entertainment in Abu Dhabi, doing a bit of what Dubai did. They have a food-and-beverage arm with people from the hospitality industry from all over the world.
We went out there and looked at the location. It will be in the Eastern Mangroves Promenade along the Eastern shore, a new mixed-use master-planned development with hotels, apartments and some retail, and three signature restaurants on the marina. We’re right on the water; the view is incredible. It seems like a good partnership.
Our plan is to do more. We think there’s room for several of our brands in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, as well as other countries.
Can you tell me about the new concepts in Los Angeles?
The Italian restaurant will be our first true partnership with a celebrity chef. [Gino Angelini] is truly a partner with us, and the restaurant will open in November. We’re close to finding a name, but we don’t have one yet. It’ll be fine-dining Italian, kind of a modernized Angelini Osteria, though not modern — more Tuscan countryside. Most of the restaurant will be outdoors with a great patio.
We’re taking an old Hamburger Hamlet space in West Hollywood and adding on to it for a total of about 13,000 square feet, including a 3,000-square-foot patio. The Italian restaurant will take about 8,000 square feet, and we’re dividing the building into two restaurants.
Next door, we’re doing a Chinese concept, but it will be a separate restaurant and design, though they might share some back of the house.
Continued from page 1
Who is designing the menu on the Chinese restaurant side?
We have another partnership with someone really special, but they haven’t signed yet, so I can’t say. We’re very close. It’s a name group, and the plan is to do something very sexy, romantic fine dining.
We’re building both restaurants at the same time, but we’ll open them at different times. The Chinese restaurant probably won’t open until February or March, but the space will be available for film shoots or private events. We just want each concept to build its own vibe and reputation, so we don’t want to open at the same time.
And next up is B Grill at the airport? Is this your first airport location?
Yes. We’re just starting construction, and that will be open in November. It’ll be a café version of BOA. It’ll be full-service and sit down. It won’t be like going to the steakhouse at night, but there will be steak on the menu, and sandwiches, salads and pasta. We’ll even haveand a bar area with TVs. The airport concessionaire is Areas USA LAX. It’s in terminal 4.
Are you growing the other concepts?
We want to do more Sushi Roku locations and another Katana. We’ve been looking for the right deal in Orange County (Calif.) forever. We’re starting to look at the (San Francisco) Bay Area, and Chicago and Miami. But we have a very concerted effort in New York. We hope to do five restaurants there, and we’ve started looking at locations. We’ll get serious about that plan toward the end of this year and lock into some deals.
How have sales been going for IDG, given the concerns about consumer spending?
Our sales have been phenomenal this year. Aside from Scottsdale, which was really hit hard, everything’s up — even Las Vegas. People are spending. We’re up year-over-year by just about double digits.
How are you preparing for what many are predicting will be rising commodity costs?
Costs will definitely be squeezing us, but we’re trying to purchase smarter and be smarter with back of the house. At some point we may need to raise prices this year, but I think there’s room to do it. By design, BOA has been a little under market, as prices go. We’ve tried to attract a diverse clientele and to be accessible to younger guests. But we definitely have room to up our check average if we need to.
What’s on the horizon for IDG?
I’ve always dreamed about doing a hotel deal, which would be a natural progression for us as restaurant/nightclub guys. There's nothing to announce yet, but we might be looking at branding a hotel. If Nobu can do it, we can too.