FORTUNE SMALL BUSINESS Owner's Manual

Staying local pays off

A chain restaurateur follows his own advice and pursues expansion close to home.

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By Keene Addington, as told to Lauren Donaldson

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(Fortune Small Business) -- I had two messages in mind when I told my story to Fortune Small Business earlier this year ("Feed the Locals First," July/August 2008): Focus on management and keep it simple.

That's the mantra I've lived by since my team and I decided to sell two restaurants we had opened in Washington, D.C., following the success of five Flat Top Grill locations in the Chicago area. We learned that our brand was strongest at the regional level and we could better manage restaurants closer to home.

Since then, we've opened another Flat Top Grill, bringing our total to 13. We have leases for four more locations through the first half of 2009.

Right now, we have a strong local brand. Our next step is to become a strong Midwest regional brand, then a strong brand in a few regions, and finally we plan to make the jump to the national scene. Our circle of restaurants around Chicago is getting bigger. One of our new leases is in Milwaukee; another is in Indianapolis.

Closing our Washington, D.C. restaurants was an extremely emotional decision, but strategically it was right. Even in these hard economic times, same-store sales were up 8.75% over the previous year in 2007, and they're up an additional 7.5% this year.

By focusing on one region and simplifying our business plan, we're less stretched and better able to build our company.  To top of page

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