How this portfolio company is growing new emerging restaurant concepts
Geo Concepcion of the new ITA Group Holdings LLC explains the three-legged strategy for growth
June 30, 2022
Written by: Lisa Jennings
Last week, the parent of the sports-restaurant Greene Turtle announced a recapitalization and reorganization to create what is now a new portfolio company under ITA Group Holdings LLC.
In an interview with Nation’s Restaurant News, Geo Concepcion, CEO of Greene Turtle, described the Columbia, Md.-based ITA as essentially having three legs:
The first is the recently revitalized Greene Turtle, a 46-year-old casual-dining brand with a sports theme and a signature crab dip that has relaunched growth. Acquired by private-equity firm Stone-Goff Partners in 2015, work on this brand has been in process since Concepcion was hired in 2019.
The second leg will be the single-unit Clark Crew BBQ in Oklahoma City, a restaurant developed by barbecue champion Travis Clark — known for his brisket, in particular. Acquired as part of the ITA restructuring, the restaurant does more than $8 million in annual sales in an 8,500-square-foot former location of Romano’s Macaroni Grill. There are no immediate plans to multiply that brand, Concepcion said, but the company sees opportunity to expand on existing operations.
The third leg of ITA is a division called Founders Growth Platform, or FGP, which has taken a 50% stake in seven emerging brands with the goal of sparking growth. ITA will provide a minimum of 50% of growth capital for each brand going forward.
With this three-legged stool structure, Concepcion said the new ITA is designed to be an “entrepreneur-first” company.
“The idea is that these entrepreneurs are helping everything in the portfolio. Each entrepreneur has a superpower and they contribute to the group,” he said.
“That’s part of what we’re trying to do here. We’re focusing on very early stage,” he added. “I think there’s two ways to think about having a holding company, and obviously there’s one benefit of having enormous scale and rolling things up. And the way we’re attacking this is to bring together entrepreneurs in the very early stages as we scale things up and have them all working and growing together with the idea that it’s going to be a lot easier to have the kids play nicely together, growing up together, [rather] than forcing that later on when they’re in their teens.”
For the FGP brands, Concepcion said the plan is to grow the concepts to between five and 10 units and prove the concepts out in three to four markets. At that point, the company would consider franchising.
Here’s a look at the seven brands under FGP and plans for growth at this point:
Neo Pizza and Taphouse
This four-unit concept based in Columbia, Md., offers artisanal pizza with a flexible quick-service model. Units have self-service “beer walls,” and counter ordering. The menu includes 10- or 14-inch pizzas, burgers, salads and sandwiches, as well as wings, pepperoni rolls and appetizers like Maryland crab dip, and cheese curds.
The first location under FGP opened in Owings Mills, Md., earlier this year, and the company has signed a lease for another in Towson, Md., Concepcion said.
This is a tapas and wine bar in Roswell, Ga., that was founded by Abelardo “Abe” Ruiz, a former chief operating officer of Famous Dave’s (preceding Concepcion, who also served as COO of Famous Dave’s). Ruiz also served later as CEO of Babalu Tapas & Tacos.
With Madrid, Concepcion said Ruiz wanted to design a concept that required no hoods, that could operate in a small footprint cost effectively, but offer a great experience. The first unit under FGP is scheduled to open in Columbia, Md., this summer, as soon as the alcohol permits are issued, Concepcion said. “And we are pursuing LOIs aggressively.”