Appetite for growth Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2007

Jeff Lobdell owns and operates 10 independent, nonfranchise or national chain restaurants. He currently has seven companies, but manages them all under the umbrella name of Restaurant Partners Inc.

Lobdell founded his first restaurant, Bagel Beanery in 1996. The concept, now with three locations, is a quick-service bagel bakery and coffee shop with a full line of breakfast and deli sandwiches.

His other restaurants — Beltline Bar’s Famous Mexican CafĂ©, Sundance Grill, Boone’s Prime Time Pub and the Omelette Shoppe — were started by other restaurateurs and acquired, improved and expanded by Lobdell and his team.

When the company acquires a restaurant, it tries to make the transition as seamless as possible. Lobdell tries to keep the existing staff intact as well as the bulk of the product offerings on the menu. Changes are gradual so existing guests aren’t alienated, yet physical improvements are made to attract new consumers.

For example, the Beltline Bar recently had its first down year in sales compared to the previous year. Part of the reason was the number of jobs lost in the area, and a competitive national chain opened two locations in the market.

Lobdell didn’t slash prices or slap up a bunch of window stickers that cheapened the restaurant’s image. Instead, he invested in interior and exterior improvements that got the attention of patrons and the local media. The news stories on the upgrade drove more business to Beltline Bar.

Restaurant Partners Inc. has prospered during poor economic times in Michigan and while combating explosive growth from national competitors.

HOW TO REACH: Restaurant Partners Inc., www.4gr8food.com or (616) 235-8640