Restaurant management company Innovative Dining Group has long taken the tortoise approach to building its roster of eateries: slow and steady. But lately the company has adopted the brisk pace of the hare.

The West Hollywood company is introducing restaurant concepts that will expand its portfolio by more than 30 percent. It’s also sending its fine-dining chain BOA Steakhouse overseas for the first time.

The Abu Dhabi Tourism Development & Investment Co. approached Innovative Dining Group earlier this year to open a steakhouse there next spring.

Lee Maen, a co-founding partner of Innovative Dining Group, said the Abu Dhabi licensing deal will be a jumping-off point for the BOA Steakhouse brand to expand across the globe.

“We feel that most people in Europe travel through the United Arab Emirates at some point,” he said. “We think it’s a great opportunity to launch our brand from there into places in Europe such as France and London, and in Asia, too.”

By early next year, the company also will have added four restaurant concepts to its lineup: two Italian restaurants; a Chinese restaurant; and B Grill, a fast-casual version of BOA Steakhouse that will open at the United Airlines terminal at Los Angeles International Airport. Both the Abu Dhabi steakhouse and B Grill mark the company’s first foray into the world of brand licensing.

The challenge will be managing that growth. Restaurant consultant Jerry Prendergast in Culver City said that because it’s growing so quickly, the company will have to work hard to maintain quality service.

“That’s a lot of people to be adding to your management team and that could be their biggest issue: building that group of individuals who maintain the quality and integrity of each operation,” he said. “If you talk to people at any higher-end chain – Houston’s, Cheesecake Factory, any of those – they’ll probably admit that their biggest issue in expanding is growing a quality management team.”

Philip Cummins, a second co-founding partner at Innovative Dining Group, acknowledged that management could be a challenge, but said that during the recession the company developed the infrastructure for future expansion.

“When we saw that we weren’t going to open restaurants in 2009 and 2010, we spent those years focusing on our management and operations, so that when the economy came back, we were ready to go,” he said. “We used that down time to prepare for growth again.”

Cummins said Innovative Dining Group is well-prepared for the added four restaurants and can even handle as many as eight more.

Local tastes

In the run-up to the opening of the BOA Steakhouse in Abu Dhabi, Cummins said the menu will need to be altered to reflect local tastes.

“The menu will have 50 to 60 percent commonality with our existing menu,” he said. “We will modify our menu to ensure we appeal to local flavors and food products that are available to us.”

He said the menu will include specialty items that might appeal to the many wealthy people in Abu Dhabi.

“We don’t serve caviar here in Los Angeles, but most likely we’ll have caviar service in Abu Dhabi,” he said.

But while the menu will change, little else will. Cummins said the restaurant will bring its distinctly Western brand of service to Abu Dhabi, meaning servers will chat and generally be friendly with customers rather than maintain the reserved, subservient tone typical of the local wait staff.

“We think we will be highly successful with our friendly style of service,” he said.

The licensing contract Innovative Dining Group signed with Tourism Development & Investment Co. allows the restaurant company some control in hiring decisions and training.

Maen said he and his partners will collaborate to hire key staff, from general manager to executive chef, at the Abu Dhabi BOA Steakhouse. They’ll also be heavily involved in training.

“Regardless of who the team is, they’re going to be trained here in Los Angeles for months,” he said. “Then, we’re going to be out there with the team when it opens to make sure it runs properly. Once the dust settles – which I don’t know if it ever settles out there – we’ll go a couple times a year to make sure it’s running as it should.”

TDIC is also bringing local artisan ice-cream company L.A. Creamery to the Middle East, as the Business Journal reported earlier this year.

Culinary history

Innovative Dining Group got its start in 1997 when four partners – Maen, Cummins, Craig Katz and Michael Cardenas – opened Sushi Roku on West Third Street in Hollywood. Four years later, they opened the first BOA Steakhouse in West Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard. The company’s third restaurant concept – Katana – opened in 2002 across the street.

Today, the company manages 14 restaurants – five Sushi Rokus, three BOA Steakhouses and six independent restaurants – spread among Los Angeles; Las Vegas; and Scottsdale, Ariz.

Maen said the company’s expansion strategy has always been based on real estate.

“We’d find an amazing location, then we’d decide what to do there,” he said. “When we found the place on Sunset where Katana is, we thought it was one of the most beautiful buildings in Los Angeles.”

The company moved the West Hollywood BOA Steakhouse down the street away from Katana in 2009, but two of IDG’s newest concepts – Italian restaurant RivaBella and an as-yet unnamed Chinese restaurant – will open at that intersection in coming months.

The company has established another geographic cluster of restaurants at Santa Monica Boulevard and Ocean Avenue featuring a Sushi Roku, a BOA Steakhouse and a Robata Bar.

Maen said one reason the company sets up such strongholds is to keep competitors from opening nearby.

“If another restaurant opens across the street, they’re going to take people. It may as well be us,” he said. “This way, we’re controlling the environment.”

The company plans to take the same approach to expansion in Abu Dhabi.

Maen said the company is looking into bringing its other brands to Abu Dhabi, then duplicate them in Dubai.

“In Abu Dhabi, we just started talking to owners of three or four incredible properties, and we’re trying to figure out if we’ll partner with TDIC again,” he said.

Between the Abu Dhabi restaurant, the fast-casual airport concept and the twin Italian and Chinese concepts opening on Sunset, the company has a lot on its plate. But that doesn’t mean its appetite for growth has been sated.

Maen said the company is looking to expand each of its brands, one city at a time. Both New York and Singapore are on the company’s radar. The company is also looking to expand its airport service at LAX.

But first, the company needs to be sure its growth is manageable.

“The next 18 months will tell us if we’ve done our job properly,” Cummins said. “Honestly, I think we have. It’s going to be a very fun, exciting and profitable time.”

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