Lazy Dog Plots Growth Beyond California


chris-simmsUpscale-casual brand Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar is looking to bring its unique beverage program and made-from-scratch dishes outside California for the first time.

Huntington Beach, Calif.-based Lazy Dog, which is also known for its dog-friendly patio spaces, currently has 14 restaurants in California and nine to 10 locations planned over the next two years in the Texas, Nevada and California markets.

Founder and chief executive Chris Simms recently spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about the importance of quality ingredients, maintaining the integrity of the brand and standing out in the casual-dining segment.

Lazy Dog is planning restaurants for Texas and Las Vegas, its first locations outside California. What is appealing about those markets?

We ventured out of Southern California for the first time last year and opened up in Concord, Calif., and the reception was amazing. It definitely gave us some confidence to continue moving outside our home area.

There is a lot of cross traffic between Southern California and Las Vegas, so we felt that we would definitely get some brand identity to begin with. We spent a lot of time in the market and found that the folks in Summerlin, Nev., in particular respect the quality level of their restaurants. They crave that quality level, so we felt like we would be a great fit for that market.

We also spent a lot of time in Texas, really understanding the residents there. The concept has this really great, Rocky Mountain, Jackson Hole theme to it, and it fits really well with the style and integrity that you find in the various suburbs of Texas.

What are Lazy Dog’s additional plans for growth?

We are going to build four restaurants in 2015, and another four or five in 2016. Most of those restaurants will happen in Southern California, Northern California, Las Vegas and Texas.

Is the plan to keep everything company-owned?

The plan is to keep it that way for the time being. Because we make everything from scratch, we think it could potentially be a bit complicated for a franchise model. We are focused on growing it ourselves and making sure that quality and integrity of the concepts is maintained.

How have you managed to grow and find financial success in the struggling casual-dining segment?

There are a couple components to the concept that really differentiate us. One of them is the scratch kitchen. The guests truly can taste the difference between food that is made in the restaurant versus something that has been prepared ahead of time and shipped in. We also have an innovative side to the menu and the bar program. We have things like edamame and Brussels sprouts, which you don’t find on a lot of casual-dining menus. In the bar we do a lot of micro craft beers. It feels good to support your local breweries that are right around the restaurant, and we find that the guests react really well to that. The fact that you can get all that innovation and quality for an average check right around $16 is unique.

How has the bar program impacted business?

One of the things that we have focused on is the Clean Cocktail program, which is based on creating healthier options for people to try, while at the same time making them just as good as any of the other items on the menu. The Clean Cocktails that we came out with at the beginning of the year have been very popular. We have actually seen an increase in bar business because of them.

You also provide a dog-friendly environment.

The dog-friendly patio is another thing that the guests really enjoy. We actually have a dog menu, and I was talking to a guy the other day that said that his Chihuahua gets excited every time he drives by a Lazy Dog because he knows he gets chicken and brown rice.