Tupelo Honey hopes to catch more flies
The Sheer Bliss Tupelo Burger is a 50-50 mix of short rib and prime rib. When Tupelo Honey Cafe opened its second Asheville restaurant in 2010, chef Brian Sonoskus had to grind meat twice weekly from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. to make enough for both locations. It wasn’t ideal, but he wasn’t willing to sacrifice quality for quantity. By 2014, Tupelo Honey Hospitality Corp. will have seven restaurants, each requiring 200 to 300 pounds of burger meat a week. So he worked out a deal with Rosemont, Ill.-based distributor US Foods Inc. to have it ground his way. “Five stores is kind of the magic number to demand a little more respect and buying power.”
Tupelo Honey has been one of the most popular restaurants in Asheville since its founding in 2001. According to Frommers guidebook, “No other restaurant in Asheville so effectively captures the imagination of both the down-home breakfast crowd and, on Friday and Saturday nights, the very-late-night supper crowd.” When Sonoskus started working there a year after it opened, the owner had no expansion plans. But Stephen Frabitore, 51, bought the restaurant in 2008 after selling his outdoor-power-equipment business in Florida to a venture-capital firm. He had flown to Asheville to inquire about another restaurant, but it didn’t pan out. A friend recommended Tupelo Honey. During his first year as owner, he spent Saturday nights at the hostess stand discovering why customers liked the food: local sources and Sonoskus’ seemingly simple dishes. He thought he could turn that into more than a single 62-seat location.
“I put every dime back into it. But then I realized the bank of Steve had to close at some point.” Frabitore took on investors, eventually raising more than $5 million. That helped pay for research on the psychographics of Tupelo Honey guests and identify cities where people like them lived. He considered franchising but decided that would not allow him to control the brand. It costs between $1.5 million and $1.9 million to open each restaurant; the average annual revenue is about $4 million.
Including the 30 at headquarters in Asheville, the company will have 800 employees by year-end, and Frabitore, the chief executive and majority owner, expects that number to reach 1,200 in 2014. He plans to keep the expansion in the Southeast, with each location reflecting the city’s character through local artwork or craft beers. But they will all have the same burger. “We intend to open restaurants as long as we’re not losing anything in translation.”
WILKESBORO — ustrite Manufacturing, a Des Plaines, Ill.-based portfolio company of Baird Capital Partners, acquired U.S. Chemical Storage, which makes outdoor storage buildings for hazardous chemicals, for an undisclosed amount.
FLETCHER — Earth Fare will close its distribution warehouse here, laying off 25. The natural and organic supermarket chain will use third-party distributors. The Asheville-based company has 31 stores in the Southeast and Midwest.
Real-estate investors Ted Cashion III and Raymond Chapman Jr. pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to defraud the United States. Prosecutors say they were straw borrowers, getting $23 million to delay failure of the Seven Falls development in Henderson County.
CANDLER — Jacob Holm Industries will expand, investing $45.9 million and adding 66 to its local workforce of 82. The Basel, Switzerland-based company’s U.S. subsidiary, which makes nonwoven hygiene, home-care and packaging products, is based here. Average annual salary will be $46,258, higher than Buncombe County’s $35,565.