If its new chief executive officer is any sign of things to come for The Habit Burger Grill, the Santa Barbara-based restaurant chain born out of a single Goleta location more than 30 years ago may soon become a household name.
On June 3, the company announced the appointment of Russ Bendel, former president and chief operating officer of The Cheesecake Factory, to the position of president and CEO.
Since a July 2007 announcement that major restaurant investment group Karp Reilly had taken 80 percent ownership of The Habit Restaurants Inc., founder Brent Reichard has said he hoped to find a qualified replacement for himself as CEO.
Reichard will stay on as chairman, and former President Dave Nordahl will remain as a board member.
“It will have to be the right person or we’ll keep it status quo,” Reichard said in a previous interview. “But when we bring in a guy, he’ll be a guy that culturally fits the organization and is able to grow it quicker and not too quick.”
Reichard has found that fit in Bendel, whose resume also boasts a stint as chief executive officer of Mimi’s Café, a 133-unit casual dining concept. Reichard said he sees the same qualities he values at The Habit at both of Bendel’s former companies. He said both The Cheesecake Factory and Mimi’s prepare their dishes from scratch and emphasize high-quality foods, the guest experience and hospitality.
“If you look at The Cheesecake Factory and Mimi’s Cafe [where Bendel was] prior to this, they both aren’t franchise companies; they’re both high-quality brands,” Reichard told the Business Times on June 4. “I would say The Cheesecake Factory is probably the premier casual brand in the casual dining industry. It has the highest average unit volumes in the industry.”
Reichard has also previously noted the importance of controlled growth. In the next five to seven years, The Habit Burger Grill expects to expand from its current count of 20 restaurant units to as many as 120 locations.
While the restaurant chain could link as far as Arizona and Nevada, Reichard maintains the company will stay in the West and within a 400-mile radius of Los Angeles.
Bendel was also involved in the early growth stages of the Outback, Roy’s and El Torito concepts.
Connecticut-based Karp Reilly has invested in restaurant chains including Elephant Bar, Mimi’s Café, Ale House, Rio Café and Z Tajas.
The group includes Blackrock, JP Morgan and Paul Fleming, founder of PF Chang’s and Fleming’s Steakhouse. The company’s Web site said it seeks to invest up to $75 million in each of its investments.
The Reichard brothers purchased the original Goleta restaurant in 1980. In the 10 years between 1996 and 2006, they grew revenues from $831,000 to $20 million and expanded their locations to nearly 25.
The Habit Restaurants Inc. encompasses all Habit locations outside of the greater Santa Barbara area.
Upon Karp Reilly’s acquisition of the chain, owners Brent and Bruce Reichard retained 20 percent ownership of the chain operation and total control of the three Habit restaurants in Santa Barbara and Goleta.
The brothers also will control the area’s fourth Habit location, set to open at Santa Barbara’s La Cumbre Plaza in August.