Star chef cooks up growth
Wolfgang Puck and wife, Barbara, tell CNNfn their recipe for expansion
NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Have you ever noticed that some of the best restaurants you've ever been to never seem to expand into national chains? It is very, very difficult to do. Two individuals who hope to do that -- and so far are doing it with some success -- are the famous chef and restaurateur Wolfgang Puck and his wife and partner Barbara Lazaroff.
The couple joined Donald Van de Mark on CNNfn's "Bizz Buzz." Here are excerpts from that interview.
VAN DE MARK: I don't know that people understand this, that you currently have a company with a number of upscale restaurants, and less expensive cafes, now a packaged food business, that now is $123 million in revenues, $14 million in cash flow, and you expect to keep growing it very quickly, that is true.
BARBARA LAZAROFF, CO-OWNER, SPAGO: Well, you've been doing your research, except the two company entities are separate. We have the Wolfgang Puck Food Company which is upscale casual dining, the Wolfgang Puck Cafes overseeing packaged foods, and then we have our fine dining entities which are Spago and Postrio, Grenada and Chinois.
VAN DE MARK: But you're going to continue to grow all of these various divisions are you not?
WOLFGANG: Well, I think we continue to grow slowly, you know, especially the upscale restaurant, we only grow them every three years or two years but the cafes, I think we accelerate that and do that probably five, six, to ten years sometimes even.
VAN DE MARK: Mr. Puck, one of the questions people have, is that how do you keep your cachet, how do you keep the buzz and the quality levels up at these upscale restaurants?
WOLFGANG: All right, I think Barbara is in charge of that, so I just go there and cook.
BARBARA: I have him well trained if you noticed. You see. (laughter from all)
WOLFGANG: I think you know, the most important thing is to have good management and we have people in upscale restaurants who've been with us for many years. We have people in casual dining who have been with us for many years. So if you go to one of our cafes or if I go to one of our cafes, I know the chef there, I know the manager. So I really think it's important to have the right people in place.
BARBARA: It is also important to make them feel as though it's their restaurant and part of their community and that gives them the feeling that they're really in charge, it empowers them. With regard to the fine dining restaurants, I really think it's very important to be very hands on with them as well and of course Wolf is there cooking. We're in the dining room, we know our customers, and we know our staff very well.
VAN DE MARK: Well, you two are whirlwinds in the restaurant business. You, Barbara Lazaroff, in terms of marketing and taking care of customers, doing the business side. Obviously you, Wolfgang Puck, in terms of cooking, but do you spread yourselves too thin at some point because you have so many thriving places?
BARBARA: We're trying to spread them a little thinner, he's got to lose a few pounds.
WOLFGANG: But you know what, I know chefs and owners who have one restaurant and it's not the good one. And I think I know people who have three, four, or more restaurants and they're very good.
VAN DE MARK: That is a very positive outlook and I know that eventually you'd like investors to take advantage of some of your success. Do you two both intend to go public with one or another or all of these companies?
BARBARA: With the Wolfgang Puck Food Company that has once again the Cafes, and the packaged food division, we have the intent to take the company public probably in the near future and the rest of them are privately held and will continue to be.
But as Wolf was speaking about before, I think the infrastructure is very important in the company. We have Frank Gudara , who's the CEO and the President of the Food Company now, we have managing partners, Tom Kaplan, other individuals who've been with us for a long time in the industry. Some of them have been with us for sixteen years, for as long as Spago has been opened.
VAN DE MARK: All right, tell us about the package food line, because I know lots of people have tried this, and in some respect it's food but it's also a very different business than restauranting, is it not?
BARBARA: Very much so.
WOLFGANG: Absolutely, it's a complete different business because I think to get into the grocery stores and to the super markets, it's very difficult because you compete against the giant food companies like Nestle.
So I think for us as a little "mom and pop" operation really, it's not that easy to go into the upscale markets and then if you can't go into the upscale markets but into the big supermarkets, it's more difficult because we don't really have a big advertising budget. You notice the big people come in and say we're going to spend $10 million, our budget wouldn't allow us to spend 1/10 of that.
So I think, we really have to do more an individual pace of marketing and hopefully get enough publicity and hopefully do a good job that people really can buy our product and that we'll create a little bit of a movement in the store.
BARBARA: And that's also why, I think, the cafes work very well in terms of the synergy and the dynamics of opening up cafes and allowing the public to become familiar with the quality, the high quality of Wolfgang's food and how that relates and interacts with the product itself in the market place with this synergy.
VAN DE MARK: Congratulations for making a professional relationship and a marriage work.
WOLFGANG: And we made two kids also.