Zoës adds to its N. Texas presence

Zoës Kitchen, a Mediterranean-themed, fast-casual restaurant, named a new chief executive Wednesday and announced plans to expand its regional office in Plano, where the CEO and other top executives are based.

Kevin Miles, 47, takes over as chief executive of the Birmingham, Ala.-based company effective immediately. He formerly was president and chief operating officer, and has been running the company for years.

The Plano office opened in April. The chain’s 18th Texas location will open Nov. 8 on Southlake Boulevard in Southlake.

North Texas is now the company’s largest market, and is taking on more importance as the company grows.

“We’ve hired several executives that are based out of this office,” said Miles, mentioning vice presidents of marketing and real estate and the director of information technology.

“As we continue to grow the company, most of the new hires will be based in this office,” he added. “More of the operations of the business are in Dallas.”

As the top executive, Miles sees his role as visionary as the chain carves out a larger swath of the growing Mediterranean-food market.

Zoës operates in the fast-casual restaurant segment (think Chipotle except with hummus and pita), which is the fastest growing part of the restaurant industry. Fast casual is quicker and generally less expensive than a sit-down casual dining restaurant, but with higher-quality food than is found in some fast-food restaurants.

 In 2011, the fast-casual Mediterranean segment posted sales of between $200 million and $250 million, according to Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based Technomic Inc., a restaurant research firm.

 “With the overall [fast-casual] segment at $27 billion, this represents less than 1 percent of the total market,” he said.

 The Mediterranean segment is starting to see accelerated growth and “likely will grow by leaps and bounds as American consumers see the healthfulness and taste of fresh Mediterranean foods,” Tristano said.

 Sales at fast-casual Mediterranean restaurants could reach $1 billion within 10 years, he said, fueled by the growth of chains like Zoës.

Miles described Zoës, which was founded in Birmingham in 1995, as the “fastest-growing Mediterranean concept out there today.” Fast Casual magazine, a trade publication, ranked it as the second fastest-growing chain in the fast-casual segment.

Zoës ended 2011 with 54 locations and expects to end 2012 with about 70 outlets, for a growth rate of about 28 percent. That’s on top of a growth rate of almost 40 percent in 2011.

All but seven of the Zoës locations open now are company-owned. In 2007 the company was purchased by investors, including California-based Brentwood Associates.

The chain plans to add 35 locations next year, including up to three in North Texas. Nearly all 35 also will be company-owned.

The privately held company declined to reveal total chainwide sales. It said sales grew by 50 percent between 2010 and 2011 and are expected to grow by 40 percent this year.

“As we continue to grow, my role becomes much more strategic,” said Miles, who joined the company in 2009. “I need to be more the visionary for the brand and strategically position us to grow.”

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