This is part of the 2013 NRN 50 special report, "Breakout Brands." This year NRN takes a look at 50 brands that are some of today's hottest emerging concepts. Meet the concepts shaking up the restaurant marketplace.
In the highly competitive casual-dining space, Bar Louie has hit a home run by making the brand appear and feel like a stand-alone local spot.
The Addison, Texas-based concept, owned by Sun Capital Partners, has grown to 68 units since 1990 by turning second-generation spaces into neighborhood bar-eateries.
John Neitzel, chief executive of BL Restaurant Operations LLC, said, “The majority of our new spaces are second-generation restaurant conversions, which allows us to stick to our credo of no two Bar Louies being the same.
“Our locations are therefore unique and a little funky, with large bars and comfortable patios,” Neitzel added. “In essence, each one looks different, but they all have the Bar Louie vibe that our guests love.”
With average unit volumes of $2.7 million, Bar Louie aims for the discretionary-income sweet spot of affluent 25- to 44-year-olds, Neitzel said.
“We’re a local bar that maintains high-quality, cutting-edge food and drink offerings in a unique urban atmosphere centered around socialization,” he explained.
Kevin Higar, a director with the Technomic consultancy and author of the book “Always Let the Lead,” said Bar Louie’s points of differentiation “revolve around attributes like socialization; creating a neighborhood gathering place; and supporting that with an aggressive beer list; unique, handcrafted cocktail menu items; and small plates that reflect international and traditional comfort-food influences.”
Sharing food and experiences are part of the concept’s makeup, Higar added.
“It’s all about appealing to customers who want to see and be seen. The atmosphere and decor and staff interactions are all going to support that kind of positioning.”
Neitzel said Bar Louie has capitalized on underperforming and failing real estate opportunities, and leveraged quick turnaround times on those conversions.
“On several occasions we’ve been able to convert in less than 100 days,” he said.
Bar Louie emphasizes its scratch kitchen and signature cocktails that employ fresh fruit and hand-squeezed juices.
Beers also comprise a sizable part of the chain’s adult-beverage offerings. Units generally sport local and regional beers on the 20 to 40 tap handles. That, Neitzel said, “lends to our commitment to remain a local bar.”
The company recently opened some areas of the nation to franchise development.
“The success of the few existing franchisees we have is a great testimonial to the opportunity we offer,” Neitzel said. “Close to one-third of the 25 new Bar Louies planned for 2013 will be franchised, with 100 new franchise locations planned over the next five years.” The company’s current 68 units are in 50 cities.
Bar Louie has discovered that beer is an effective vehicle for polishing the brand’s local bona fides.
“We’ve found that people are particularly partial to beer selections,” Neitzel said. “[That’s] another reason we maintain local beer options at all locations.”
The evolution of the brand has been steady, he added.
“We’ve taken the appeal of our first local bars in downtown Chicago and fulfilled the need for unique local bars in non-urban areas,” he said. “Whether it’s a 2,700- or 10,000-square-foot space in an urban or suburban area, we provide a comfortable atmosphere designed for people to congregate and socialize while enjoying the Bar Louie experience.”
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