Plan Check Kitchen + Bar is a casual-dining restaurant known for its contemporary twists on comfort food. Established in 2012, the concept has three Los Angeles locations and is gearing up to launch its fourth this spring in nearby Santa Monica. Checks average $25 per person, and the three branches host 9,000 guests a week. The figures suggest per-unit sales of around $3.6 million annually.
Plan Check specializes in modern takes on comfort foods, from all-natural fried chicken and smoked milk gravy to sweet-potato waffle fries served with peach ketchup. Perhaps the concept’s most creative take on a classic dish is its signature Plan Check Burger, which is topped with what Plan Check calls Ketchup Leather. Executive chef Ernesto Uchimura, who previously worked for Umami Burger, developed the dehydrated square of ketchup to keep burger buns from getting soggy. “We wanted to do something that wasn’t a departure from a burger…but there was enough innovation that made us stand out,” says concept founder Terry Heller.
After Heller found a restaurant space in L.A.’s Little Osaka neighborhood, he developed Plan Check to offer something that was different from the numerous Japanese restaurants in the area but still paid homage to its roots. Plan Check was one of the first concepts in the neighborhood to specialize in American fare and was also one of the first to offer full bar service instead of just beer, wine and sake. The area’s Asian influences are obvious in the menu though, which lists items such as wasabi-flavored beer nuts and a pastrami sandwich topped with kimchi mustard, along with a selection of Japanese whiskies. The brand has continued that local focus with its subsequent sites, with each offering daily specials along with a few items exclusive to that unit. For example, the Downtown location near Koreatown offers a Korean barbecue burger, and the brand’s upcoming Santa Monica restaurant will feature a few seafood dishes.
Restaurants are designed to be laid-back hangouts, with trendy industrial decor and features such as open dining rooms, communal tables and spacious outdoor patios. The interiors encompass about 3,000 square feet. The concept caters to locals by offering limited reservations (to encourage walk-ins) and by opening restaurants in sites that are off the beaten path, instead of in shopping districts and lifestyle centers. Locals also appreciate the extensive selection of adult beverages and the generous happy hour specials, which include $6 old fashioneds and $4 wines.
Plan Check takes an unconventional approach to marketing its brand, collaborating with everyone from streetwear concept Stussy to Hello Kitty creator Sarino for promotions. Heller credits his and Uchimura’s shared interests in hip hop, skating and street-style art in their nontraditional marketing technique. “We’re always looking for inspiration outside of food for collaborations,” Heller said. “Our food is representative of our personalities.” Their strategy appears to resonate with Plan Check’s consumers. For a recent promotion inspired by Gudetama, a Sanrio-developed character that looks like a fried egg, Plan Check offered a multicourse meal that included egg-topped dishes and a Gudetama Plan Check T-shirt. The meal sold out every night throughout the promotion.
Heller developed Plan Check as a scalable concept, with aims of expanding it nationwide. He’s in talks to open restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area and has his eye on major markets like Texas, Chicago and New York City. He’s also been approached by several investors, but Heller says he’s been careful not to expand too fast. “We want to be really deliberate and smart about it,” he said. “We’ve been real selective on our real estate…and smart real estate deals are few and far between.” Heller has no plans to franchise the concept, but is open to licensing deals or a joint venture if Plan Check expands abroad.