Written by: Lisa Jennings, Nations Restaurant News – 11/19/2015
New design aims for more premium fast-casual Mediterranean niche Luna Grill is poised to ramp up growth with the debut of a new 3.0 prototype that aims to move the Mediterranean brand more solidly into the premium fast-casual niche. Sean Pourteymour, who co-founded the San Diego-based concept with his wife Maria Pourteymour in 2004, said the company is scheduled to launch the new prototype unit in March 2016 in La Cañada, Calif., part of the greater Los Angeles area.
The design aims to better reflect what Pourteymour describes as the made-to-order, “casual luxe” menu, with fresh ingredients, draft beer and wine, and upgraded plates and utensils.
Pourteymour said the improvements will help the concept build its dinner business, and is already close to matching sales at lunch of about 53 percent.
“We want to be more in between fine dining and fast casual,” he said. “Chipotle (Mexican Grill) is fast casual, but it’s more go down the line, get it quick, eat and go. At Luna, you order at the counter, but you can sit down with your kids. There are people on the floor to refill your drinks or bus for you. We’ve really tried to raise the bar on the guest experience.”
Luna Grill has 21 units, including three restaurants in Dallas and 18 locations throughout Southern California. Los Angeles will be a new market for the brand, and Pourteymour said the chain expects to reach 37 to 40 units open across Southern California by the end of 2016, all company owned.
The concept has been buoyed in part by a growing interest in healthful Mediterranean cuisine. Luna Grill has Persian roots, with a menu centered around grilled chicken kabobs, as well as beef, veggie, fish and lamb options, Pourteymour said. Customers choose a grilled protein, and whether they want it as a wrap, salad or signature plate, with sides such as hummus, falafel, spicy feta dip, fries or spinach pie.
Meats come from animals raised without antibiotics or growth hormones, genetically modified and artificial ingredients are avoided, and the chain looks for locally harvested and sustainably raised produce where possible, according to Luna Grill’s website.
The average check is about $12. “People ask us, ‘How can you serve this kind of quality food and still make it work?’ But that’s our secret sauce,” Pourteymour said. Over the past year, the company has been building infrastructure for new growth. Sean Allameh, the former operations director of Umami Burger, was named Luna Grill’s chief operations officer in April. Nicole Abraham, formerly of the Ladeki Restaurant Group, was named vice president of marketing.
Pourteymour said the chain, which is operated by parent company Premier Food Concepts LLC, has been courted by private-equity and strategic investors that have been watching the success of public companies like Zoe’s Kitchen, another Mediterranean brand in the fast-casual space. So far, however, Luna Grill has grown with private raises and traditional bank loans, he said. “We do feel like the pretty girl in the room,” Pourteymour said. “It’s been a great year and we’ve been humbled by the calls and interest in our brand. But we’ve taken our time for many years to incubate Luna to where our vision is for it, and we’re blessed to not have to rush into anything.” Pourteymour praises Zoe’s Kitchen for bringing more attention to the Mediterranean niche. Other players in
the space are also growing.
The formerly Greek-focused Daphne’s California Greek chain is being converted to a broader Mediterranean concept known as Yalla Mediterranean, and the Greek-inspired Cava Mezze Grill concept recently won a $45 million investment for growth. “I want every Mediterranean concept out there to do amazing,” Pourteymour said. “There are so few of us in this fast-casual arena in Mediterranean, and we’re different because of our cooking style. Look how many pizza and burger guys there are, and there are only a handful of us.”
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