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Another Fast-Casual Restaurant Looks to Land in Houston

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Baker Bros, a fast-casual, American deli restaurant out of Dallas, is looking to expand into Houston, if it can find a good spot for its first signed-up franchisee. It's also looking for more folks to buy into a franchise, which at the going rate of $500,000 is a steal, according to CEO Ken Reimer.

Fast-casual restaurants seem to be springing up everywhere these days and according to Reimer, are particularly suited to harder economic times. They can operate with relatively small cooking spaces which cuts down the overhead. By offering quick counter service with quality seating, Baker Bros also keeps costs down by having no chefs, waiters or hostesses. Instead of a crew of 75, Baker Bros operates with 20 employees. You order, pick up your stuff and take off, or sit down and linger. Or as Reimer puts it: "It gives the consumer control over his own time."

Reimer, who has years of experience in the restaurant industry (including a 10 year stint as CEO of Tony Roma's) has a pricing guide to go with the designations. As he lays it out, most fast food comes in around $4-$5.50 a meal. He says full service casual dinners usually clock in between $9 and $19. Restaurants like his fill that in-between, $6-$8 niche, he says.

His restaurant chain specializes in sandwiches, gourmet salads, specialty pizzas and baked potatoes, all made to order. Reimer says it'll take 3-1/2 minutes to get a sandwich, six minutes for a pizza and only one or two minutes for a salad. It wants to reach customers who want healthy food, he says. "We only bake. We don't have grills or fryers."

Expansion into Houston is a natural, Reimer says. They know the market and consider it still a strong one, especially compared to the rest of the country. They're hoping to open as many as three restaurants here in the next year and since they're primarily a lunch operation they're looking for sites near businesses and shopping centers "with residential backup" such as near the Galleria. - Margaret Downing

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