J. Alexander’s is adding another polished-casual concept to its fold: a steak, seafood and bar-focused concept called Merus Grill.
The 7,900-square-foot prototype is scheduled to open this fall in Houston’s Uptown Park, a high-end, open-air shopping center. Research on the location and its surrounding market convinced J. Alexander’s to develop the Merus brand there, according to the announcement from the company.
J. Alexander’s provided few details on the venture, which will be the company’s sixth high-end casual operation. Among the few particulars revealed were plans to include 200 seats and a need for 90 employees.
The company indicated that the bar will feature “interesting martinis,” “unique” cocktails and a wide selection of wines sold by the glass as well as the bottle. “Merus” is a Latin-derived term for “pure” or “unadulterated” and is often used to describe wines.
The venture comes as J. Alexander’s is exploring strategic alternatives, including the possibility of a sale or acquisition. Investors have been pushing the chain to take steps to maximize shareholder value, a reaction to relatively flat sales and profits. A majority voted about 18 months ago to prevent a merger with Ninety Nine Restaurants, a grill concept with a lower average check than the typical tab for J. Alexander’s current brand.
It currently owns and operates 46 restaurants under the names J. Alexander’s (19 restaurants), Stoney River (13), Redlands Grill (12), Overland Park Grill (one) and Lyndhurst Grill (one). All compete at the high end of the casual market.
A number of other casual-restaurant operators are similarly diversifying their holdings. The Cheesecake Factory, for instance, added the high-volume North Italia chain as part of its merger with Fox Restaurant Concepts. The parent of Outback Steakhouse is experimenting with a fast-casual spinoff called Aussie Grill by Outback, and Applebee’s parent company has publicly indicated that it’s investigating possible acquisitions.
The company posted a net income of $2.2 million on revenues of $62.2 million for the second quarter.