Vojnovic, Bratic Have Big Plans for Little Greek

January 26, 2012

Big Plans

Vojnovic, Bratic Have Big Plans for Little Greek

The former president of Beef ‘O’ Brady’s is back on the Tampa Bay restaurant scene with ambitious plans for a Greek concept.

Nick Vojnovic, who left the family sports pub chain in June 2010, now is president of the Little Greek Restaurants chain.

Vojnovic envisions 25 Bay area Little Greek restaurants in five years and 100 across the country in 10 years. So far he’s sailing on smooth waters with plans to open five restaurants in the first half of 2012.

Vojnovic reviewed various concepts before signing on with founder Sigrid Bratic and becoming a 70 percent shareholder in Little Greek Franchise Development LLC. in May. He saw a promising business model and untapped demand for fast-casual Greek food.

“When I came on board I said I was looking for a small franchise company I can grow,” Vojnovic said.

There are five Little Greek restaurants, including three owned by Bratic. A franchise location owned by Fotis Giannoisis is set to open in Westchase in Jan. 12, and Bratic is on track to open restaurants in Tampa and St. Petersburg in January and March, respectively.

Part of the strategy is that Bratic will open restaurants herself, build them to her specifications and sell to franchisees once established.

“It’s much easier for a franchisee to come in with an existing cash flow,” Vojnovic said.
On the east coast of Florida, a franchisee is scheduled to open a restaurant in the second quarter of 2012.

Little Greek is scouting out space in South Tampa for the possible opening of a company-owned restaurant around the same time.

A niche in Greek

The Greek segment of Mediterranean cuisine feeds Americans’ growing desire for healthy, tasty food, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based food research firm Technomic Inc.

The “under-penetrated” segment has few national players. The largest is Daphne’s California Greek, a chain based in Carlsbad, Calif.

Competition will come from independent restaurants more than from chains, Tristano said.
In addition, the lower price points and a faster experience of the fast-casual segment continue to be a draw.

It’s an opportunity that if well-executed can fit the needs of American consumers well, Tristano said.

Another part of Little Greek’s strategy is to offer a lower turnkey investment, or total opening cost, of around $150,000.

Vojnovic expects the average location to generate $12,000 to $13,000 a week, making the investment-to-sales ratio about four-to-one.

Little Greek will offer such investment costs in part by targeting “second-generation” restaurant space, or sites that became open when restaurants went out of business.
The Carrollwood location, for example, previously was a Quiznos Restaurant, and a South Tampa site under consideration was a Wingstop.

Restaurants have turned to second-generation space to save costs, said Brian Bern, senior director with Franklin Street Real Estate Services, a Tampa firm working with Little Greek to find space.

“It was definitely a trend that came from the recession with a lot of restaurants that didn’t make it,” Bern said. “The ones who had cash took advantage and were able to expand.”
Retrofitting an old restaurant as opposed to remodeling or building from scratch can save a new restaurant owner impact fees, infrastructure costs and other expenses.

Despite rough economic times, good sites come and go quickly. Bern found out about Little Greek’s Westchase location of roughly 1,050 square feet through conversations with the landlord.
“We’re able to strategize on which areas make sense,” Bern said.

A Little Greek history

Little Greek began in 2004 when Sigrid Bratic bought the Happy Greek restaurant in Palm Harbor. After renaming and updating, she opened restaurants in New Port Richey and Feather Sound in 2008. Little Greek’s first franchise restaurant opened in September 2010 in Richardson, Texas. Three months later Bratic sold the Palm Harbor restaurant to franchisees and it became the second franchise location. Bratic opened a Little Greek in Carrollwood in September 2011.

View the full article on Tampa Bay Business Journal

First at the Jersey Shore; Joe’s Crab Shack Opening at Mall

January 26, 2012

First At

Joe’s Crab Shack opening at Monmouth Mall

EATONTOWN — Seafood chain Joe’s Crab Shack opens its first restaurant at the Jersey Shore on Tuesday, the latest change at the Monmouth Mall in Eatontown.

The 284-seat restaurant, located in a separate building on the ring road across from AMC Loews Monmouth Mall, is the fourth Joe’s in New Jersey. The others are located in South Plainfield, Lawrenceville and Clifton.

Its menu features crab, of course, and shellfish. “Crab’s our middle name,” said Jim Mazany, chief operating officer at Joe’s Crab Shack. With its beach theme, food is served in buckets and steampots with flavors that are reminiscent of a cook-out on the beach, he said. Staff dress in tie-dyed shirts. It also has an enclosed patio that can be opened in warmer weather.

“It is serious food that we serve, but we serve it in a fun, high-energy wave,” Mazany said.
Following the 11 a.m. ribbon cutting on Tuesday, the first 100 customers served will receive a voucher for a free Snow crab bucket every month for a year.

Joe’s Crab Shack is the fourth-largest seafood chain, with $312 million in sales in 2010, according to Technomic, a Chicago-based research firm. Other chains in the industry include Red Lobster, the largest; Bonefish Grill, which earlier this year opened a restaurant in Middletown; and McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurant.

Once owned by Landry’s Restaurants Inc., Joe’s was sold to Houston, Texas-based Ignite Restaurant Group in 2006. Ignite also owns Brick House Tavern + Tap, which has a location in South Plainfield.

Joe’s has started to reinvent itself, adding new locations, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic

“It really is a nice turnaround story in terms of where they have been and where they seem to be heading,” Tristano said. “They have got a fun lively atmosphere.”

Kevin Sargent, a Tinton Falls resident, was at the restaurant on Thursday for lunch as servers trained ahead of the Tuesday grand opening. From Ohio, he has been to Joe’s before.

He liked the atmosphere at Joe’s. During the service, the restaurant’s staff broke into a celebration dance to the 1990s hit by Quad City DJ’s “C’Mon ‘N Ride It (The Train).”

“The food’s delicious, very good.” Sargent said.

Joe’s Crab Shack has opened 10 restaurants this year, including the Clifton restaurant, Mazany said. It expects to open about the same number or more in 2012.

“New Jersey has had a great history as a great place to do business and obviously a great history of success,” Mazany said. “We are looking up and down the coast of New Jersey and inland as well.’’

Its location at the Monmouth Mall “was really a good match up for what we look for in our guest base.”

Monmouth Mall has been a hub of activity this year.

In October, Boscov’s reopened after closing its store after it filed for bankruptcy in 2008, a victim of the deep recession. At the same time, Monmouth Mall completed its interior renovation, including new floors, paint and a color scheme, part of a $30 million investment, which included the purchase of the Boscov’s building.

View the full article on Asbury Park Press