The Go Roma fast-casual Italian brand was acquired Wednesday by former Morton’s Restaurant Group chief financial officer Ronald DiNella and his investment partners, and the six-unit chain is in for some tweaks, the new owner said.
The Roma Restaurant Investments group, owned by DiNella Hospitality, acquired all the stock in Go Roma-parent Fast Fresh Italian LLC from San Francisco-based GESD Capital Partners LLC, which also owns bread maker and bakery-cafe operator Andre Boudin Bakeries Inc.
The terms were not disclosed for the deal that will see Go Roma’s corporate headquarters shift from San Francisco to the Chicago area, said DiNella, the chain’s new president and chief executive.
“This [deal] came together quickly, as the folks at Boudin want to focus on their bakeries, and we thought the world of Go Roma,” explained DiNella, who left Morton’s after 20 years in early 2012 following the acquisition of that Chicago-based chain of 77 upscale steakhouses by Fertitta Entertainment Inc.
“We’re going to have a flat organization with modest general and administrative [expenses] and reinvest profits back into the company,” the new Go Roma owner said, confirming that the acquired restaurants are already profitable at the unit level.
DiNella said he and his partners believe the nine-year-old Go Roma concept to be “uniquely positioned as one of the few Italian restaurant groups in the flourishing fast-casual arena.”
Go Roma is known for a menu of pastas, pizzas, soups, salads and desserts that can be prepared to order and served within five to seven minutes. The restaurants also sell beer and wine.
The concept was founded in 2004 by a group of former Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises and Brinker International executives previously involved in the development of the fast-casual Corner Bakery Café chain now owned by Roark Capital Group, and the full-service Maggiano’s Little Italy chain owned by Brinker.
Changes ahead for Go Roma
Among other moves in the coming months, DiNella said, the new management team will engineer a “menu refresh but not make dramatic changes.” The idea, he added, is to make sure that the concept’s food offerings fully consider the culinary sophistication of the dining public, which has increased significantly in the nine years since Go Roma was born.
Also planned, he said, is a “reinvestment in the marketing piece,” which will include making greater noise about the new products that will emerge in the months ahead and ramping up limited-time offers.
“We’ll also be taking a look at the dining rooms to see if they can use a refresh” and “focusing on catering,” DiNella added.
At this time, he said, Go Roma sales are split evenly between the lunch and dinner dayparts, but he added that the share might skew towards lunch as catering sales take off, as he envisions much of the new business coming from businesses ordering meals for meetings or other functions.
DiNella said he also wants to build out in the Chicago area a new, smaller and more cost-efficient restaurant prototype modeled by the previous owner that would seat about 65 people, compared with current stores that can seat up to 100 people. He said he’d like to see the new prototype in development by the second half of this year.
Go Roma has not seen the degree of growth some industry observers expected in its early years, as the concept has closed at least two restaurants since it was given a Hot Concept award by the editors of Nation’s Restaurant News in 2007, among other accolades.
“I think it was just timing and circumstances, as they were starting to ramp up development right as the recession came,” DiNella said of the chain’s growth challenges, adding, “We just feel lucky to get a high-quality brand with an excellent pedigree."
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: Jan. 9, 2013 A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the name of GESD Capital Partners LLC.
Contact Alan J. Liddle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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