News » Feature

Is the Plaza's flagship burger business done well or, well, done?

The craft-burger business on the Plaza faces an uncertain future.



Page 3 of 6

But first it needed to leave Westport.

At the end of January 2010, Blanc closed the doors at its wildly popular original location. On February 11, Blanc debuted on the Plaza, taking over the former Pizzeria Uno space. Sources say the refit was hampered by unexpected repair costs, mainly associated with the property's aging heating and cooling system. Still, the new Blanc was impressive, starting with its size. At 5,400 square feet, it was triple the area of Blanc's first space. The Westport location maxed out at an occupancy of 75; the Plaza restaurant could hold 175 people, with room for another 40 on the patio.

Not that everyone liked the interior's luminous whitewash. "It looked like somebody murdered Pizzeria Uno and its bleached white bones rose up in the spot," Crane says.

"It was really sterile," Evans says of the space — and of the Peraltas' shifting management style, which left some employees longing for Westport's funkier vibe. "In Westport, it was about being yourself and being self-expressive. At the Plaza, they didn't want visible tattoos."

"The Plaza gave us a face," Ernesto Peralta counters. "It gave us exposure. We were alongside the better restaurants in Kansas City."

Dan Lowe, founder of RED Development (now RED Legacy) and an early Blanc booster, agreed that the restaurant was on its way up. He and Peralta began talking about how to export Blanc to other markets. Soon, Blanc's website announced that a location in Little Rock, Arkansas, was "coming fall 2010." It was supposed to move into one of RED's properties, a 2,500-square-foot space in Little Rock's Promenade at Chenal development. Blanc's signature white-and-orange color scheme made it onto the walls, but the project stalled.

"Going from one store to three stores is probably the trickiest time," says David Claflin, a marketing consultant with RED Legacy. "I'm just not sure how well-known Blanc was outside of the Westport community."

A third location did open in April 2010 but closer to home. B:2: A Burger Boutique — The Pitch's Charles Ferruzza called it Blanc's "country cousin" — was meant to be a kind of Blanc LongHorn Steakhouse to Blanc's Capital Grille. It offered 6-ounce patties (instead of Blanc's 8-ounce) at lunch and stocked only American craft beers (rather than a vast international array of brews). But the white-and-royal-blue space at Summit Fair never really found its rhythm.

"It just didn't work out the way we wanted," Peralta says.

"Ernesto was always looking for other opportunities," Crane says. "And that's good, but you still have to be able to execute on what you have."

In the summer of 2010, faced with a large space to fill and a brand identity on the mend, Peralta looked to Groupon to better execute what Blanc already had. But the daily-deal site further taxed the business.

"We grew from a small space in 2010 and needed to fill more seats. The best way for us to create a buzz is to create conversation."

That conversation can come with a heavy cost. A recent Rice University study found that 57 percent of businesses make money with Groupon, but 23 percent lose money. Small businesses have sometimes found themselves overwhelmed by a strong response to a coupon that failed to cover their costs. Dyer Price, the owner of Muddy's coffeehouse in Portland, Oregon, took out a bank loan last summer to cover what she says were $8,000 in losses. Need a Cake bakery in Reading, England, lost an estimated $19,500, according to owner Rachel Brown, after customers bought Groupons for 102,000 cupcakes. And the validity of Groupon's own business model is under attack, with its stock price dipping below $4 in early December.

Comments (47)

Showing 1-25 of 47

Add a comment

Add a comment