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Spoon Bar & Kitchen is Selling, But What Does it Mean?

Early this morning D's Nancy Nichols posted a copy of a press release over at SideDish that reveals that much-lauded Spoon Bar & Kitchen is being sold to a company called Chanticleer Holdings.

A rep for Spoon investor CapRock Services is quoted as saying, "Chanticleer is a perfect fit for our future strategic plans around the Spoon brand" — strategic plans that involve launching a fast-casual concept with "with 3 to 10 units."

The release goes on to say that "Tesar will continue to serve as the creative and culinary force behind the brand." But what does it all actually mean? Could the sale of Spoon to a company that owns and operates "over 412 Hooters restaurants in 28 countries" mean major changes to the critically acclaimed restaurant as we know it, just barely after celebrating its first anniversary? Eater caught up with Tesar this morning to get the scoop straight from the proverbial horse's mouth:

So John, what does the Chanticleer purchase mean for you and Spoon?

First and foremost, it's a dream. It's many businessmen's dream to be purchased by a larger company and be a publicly traded company. Everybody wants to make their own ketchup, their own salad dressing and get shelf space in the supermarket. CapRock started me in this business [at Spoon], they lend money and they have other projects and things that they do. The success of Spoon led us to the reality that we could sit here for the next 5 years and pay off investor money a little bit at a time, or we could capitalize on a market that is undersold here in the Southwest — seafood. We live in a land of meat and potatoes, but I've proved and several other chefs have proved that seafood is a viable alternative these days. Chanticleer saw the value in that.

So for me personally, it's an honor and a privilege to have all this happen. The fact that we were able to do Spoon and have the year that we've had, and now we start the second year in a major, major way with a lot of expansion and opportunity... And I'm able to be a businessman and a restaurateur, not only a chef. It's a golden opportunity for me to grow and learn and to work with people. Look at the success of other chefs, my mentors, the Eric Riperts, the Daniel Bouluds, they have multiple locations and they have quality in all of those locations. They maintain their integrity by staying in their restaurant. You go to Daniel, Daniel's there. Until recently, you go to Le Bernardin and Eric would be there.

Spoon is always going to be the crown jewel in this new venture with Chanticleer. They own Hooters, but that's their business. They see the changing times, much like that generational shift we spoke of in that recent interview, and that's an important thing that I've tried to impress to my partners, my investors, my customers even, that there's a whole generation of people that need something new that they can own for themselves. And seafood not only has that creativity, it has that health aspect to it, it's something new, it's interesting, and we hope to do it with a lot of integrity but also make it cool and bring ambiance to it and social gatherings.

Spoon will remain my laboratory, where I work on all of these things, and if people want to eat my food, the food that I'm cooking, that's where they'll come to. I don't know how many locations we're going to have and what the growth of this will be at this point, we're still in the development stage, but I will be at Spoon the majority of the time. It's something I created and it's something that made all this possible, I kind of owe it to myself and the people who have supported us up to this point that Spoon will maintain the notion of what it is. People have really enjoyed it up to this point and raved about it, it's had a banner year, and we're just going to work harder at that. And hopefully people will enjoy the spinoffs as well. So it seems like a great thing, but it's also a lot of work. It's one thing to be owned by a publicly traded company and get stock and have no debt, but these other concepts — I have a responsibility to them. I take ownership of anything I do, and that's important to me.

I think these types of restaurants are necessary. All these incubator projects and all these little one-off things are great but to give people that have never had quality seafood an affordable place to gather and experience it created by a chef and other young chefs, that's a privilege. I'm half pragmatist, half artist. Money is important to pay bills and live but I do this for the love of it, and now for the education of it, to be able to hire young chefs and young managers and put them into situations and really give them the history of the restaurant business and run a company that has that kind of integrity... It's like a dream come true, I don't even know how this happened. I don't think I've even absorbed this and how lucky I am, after all the shit I've been through. [laughs] You can quote me on that.

What does the John Tesar vision of a fast-casual spot look like?

For me it's very similar to like a Taco Diner. It kind of has an understated elegance, a kind of coolness, there's some counter seating, maybe there's a part where you can take food away, kind of the Hopdoddy of seafood. That's what I think. We're going to do lots of different projects and spinoffs of the brand as we develop. From location to location the concept will change — it has to be developed around the neighborhood, around the real estate, around the people that are going to be there. We're not going to be putting things in malls, we're going to be doing really nice fast-casual restaurants. Not only in Dallas, we hope to expand throughout Texas.

So does this mean you're "selling out"?

Not at all. The beauty of having a company like CapRock to do the financial controlling, the accounting, the billpaying, and Chanticleer to have the vision to secure real estate and have the experience… they've opened all these Hooters and there's a value in that. We're kind of taking tongue-in-cheek American dining and trying to elevate it with my concept. And that's why Chanticleer is purchasing us, they see that as the next trend. If you look on Wall Street, it's also a bigger picture stock play. There's a bubble in the food industry right now. Look at the stock for Buffalo Wild Wings, it went from $4 to $8 to $12 to $20. If Spoon-Chanticleer Texas LLC can develop seafood restaurants, a seafood market, and then have Spoon, a nationally recognized restaurant maintain its integirity, and all of it driven by John Tesar's cuisine, and John Tesar developing a team of young, spirited, talented people to work with him, you know, that's an amazing opportunity. And that's also a lot of work. Thats why it's not selling out, because we're not changing Spoon, I'll be at Spoon. These other things are really to offer people healthier, better food in a cool atmosphere with wonderful ambiance and guest hospitality. Something you don't often get in fast-casual restaurants. That's my vision for it.

I'm sure there will be times I'll have to fight with my partners, but that's the process. I'm not going to put my thumbprint on anything unless I'm happy with what it is. It's not like I have a non-compete contract with them. They purchased Spoon which was owned by my investors, and I agreed it would be a good sell with the opportunity that I could grow my brand. It's a blessing and it just fell out of the sky, for a year we've been trying to find a buyer. The initial $700,000 that it cost to build Spoon was not a good fit for my partners — they could've taken that money and made hundreds of thousands of dollars with it by now. So from their perspective they love Spoon and what I've done but like any other investor or partner, they want their money back. We just happened to get lucky that the person that we sold it to, it's a large company that wants to take us out into the world and grow the brand. Like I said I haven't even really processed it all yet, but the opportunity is just endless as long as you don't sell out and maintain your integrity. And I think that's important to the success of any business.

· Caprock Services Signs Binding Letter Of Intent To Sell Spoon Bar & Kitchen in Dallas [SideDish]
· More John Tesar coverage [-EDFW-]

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