Scottsdale restaurant entrepreneur Randy Schoch thinks he has found the right dining concept to fuel a national expansion. He opened the second version of Ling & Louie's Asian Bar & Grill in Scottsdale a month ago. It's the first version of the prototype he plans to take nationwide.
A Denver Ling & Louie's is a conversion of Schoch's Thaifoon, his 6-year-old upscale Thai dining concept.
Schoch, who owns five Ruth's Chris Steak Houses and a Romano's Macaroni Grill, wants his own brand.
Thaifoon, which opened in 2002, was supposed to be that model. But Thaifoon proved too pricey and Thai food too limiting to keep diners coming back on a regular basis, Schoch said.
He has a Salt Lake City Thaifoon that does a booming business that he'll keep, he said, but he's closed or converted the others.
"I wanted to do something smaller, more user-friendly, that played to the average person in Omaha and Seattle," Schoch said.
Ling & Louie's, which serves all styles of Asian food along with such American bar & grill staples as sliders and steaks, provides enough variety for a family's worth of tastes to find something to like, Schoch said.
In fact, in choosing a moniker for his new eatery, Schoch picked an Asian woman's name and an American man's name to emphasize that the menu is varied.
"There are a lot of Asian accents, but at the end of the day, it's a neighborhood bar and grill concept," said Kevin Donellan, Ling & Louie's marketing vice president.
That distinguishes it from other Scottsdale-born Asian eatery chains like P.F. Chang's, Bamboo Club and Pei Wei Asian Diner, he said.
And Schoch said he plans to change the menu frequently, "so people will come back just to see what's new. The concept is continuously evolving."
Donellan, who worked at Scottsdale-based Cold Stone Creamery during that company's meteoric growth spurt and later helped launch V's Barbershop's planned expansion, said Ling & Louie's is a better bet to succeed than Thaifoon.
"This has the right ingredients to compete on a national level," Donellan said.
Besides the combo Asian and American menu, Ling & Louie's is about half the size as Thaifoon with more casual decor and lower menu prices, Schoch said.
The Scottsdale version, at 94th Street and Shea Boulevard, is already drawing big lunch and dinner crowds.
A second Denver restaurant is pegged for a summer opening, and a Ling & Louie's is slated to open in early 2009 in the Wild Horse Pass Casino on the Gila River Indian Community.
Schoch said he has a franchisee in south Florida who plans to build five, and he's in discussions with several other potential franchisees.
He hopes to open three or four new restaurants open this year, a dozen in 2009 and 25 in 2010. Schoch can envision as many as 500 U.S. Ling & Louie's before the brand reaches saturation, he said.