It's no coincidence that Vancouver-based Earls Kitchen + Bar promotes itself as “one of North America’s most successful independent restaurant groups,” even though its 60 stores would suggest it's more chain than indy. The family-owned company was launched in 1982 by LeRoy Earl Fuller and his eldest son Stanley Earl Fuller (hence the lack of apostrophe in the brand name). The casual-dining chain has a growing number of sites in the U.S. Here’s what makes Earls a concept to watch.
No cookie-cutter units
No two Earls restaurants look alike. The brand operates its own design company, e+ Design and Construction, that ensures each unit features a unique look. “Our locations are not cookie-cutter,” said Cate Simpson, Earls’ communications manager. “We don’t want guests to feel like they have seen the restaurant before, whether that’s one of ours or an independent.” The company employs local contractors, suppliers and artists to give each restaurant a neighborhood-friendly feel. Additionally, Earls scouts locations near landmarks and areas of interest to offer dining with a view, and large patios and sliding-glass doors give units an open-air setting in warmer weather.
Housemade syrups and handmade breads
With no commissary kitchens, Earls’ staff prepares everything in-house. Dishes feature scratch-made sauces and handmade breads, and the bar uses fresh-squeezed juices and housemade syrups in its cocktails. Additionally, a majority of the bar’s beer selection is dedicated to regional small-batch brews. Earls also sources local and regional ingredients for its food and introduces new items every several weeks that highlight seasonal ingredients and flavors.
From sushi to curry
Originally launched as a burger concept, Earls began adding globally inspired dishes to its menu in the late 1980s after several international vacations introduced the company’s founders to different ethnic cuisines. The current seasonal selection lists Korean bibimbap and Thai carrot-and-coconut soup, while menu mainstays include Indian jeera chicken curry and Mexican-style tinga chicken tacos.
A wide net
Earls caters to a variety of occasions, from business lunches and after-work drinks to group dinners and late-night eats. Ranging from 7,000 to 10,000 square feet, restaurants include large bar areas and lounge spaces adjacent to spacious dining rooms. Some units also include areas for private event rentals. Each restaurant offers a happy hour menu in addition to daily drink specials, and sites typically remain open until midnight or later.
A pro-employee environment
Users of Glassdoor.com voted Earls Kitchen + Bar the best place to work in Canada for the job-review website’s most recent Employees’ Choice Awards. Earls says its strives to treat its people as its greatest investment. The company promotes several initiatives designed for keeping its employees content, from culinary development field trips to Magic Hour, a themed party every second Friday where “wine is always involved.” Benefits include paid vacation days, personal spending accounts and job traning programs such as chef certification courses.
An upscale alternative?
Promoting quality fare and “Canadian hospitality,” Earls considers itself an upscale alternative to the U.S.’s many varied-menu casual-dining chains. The company expects that differentiation to help it expand stateside, where it’s launched locations in several major markets—including Miami, Chicago and Washington, D.C.—over the last few years. Earls plans to continue expanding in the U.S.; its first Orlando, Fla., restaurant is set to launch this summer followed by a second Boston site in the fall.