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Emerging Brands

LYFE Kitchen begins its 2nd act

The fast-casual chain’s new owner plans to expand the health-focused restaurant in and around Chicago after buying it from Carlisle Corp.
LYFE Kitchen

Carlisle Corp.’s recent sale of the once-booming LYFE Kitchen brand to a former franchisee should be viewed as a renaissance for the fast-casual chain, not a death knell, the concept’s new owner said.

Same-store sales and catering revenue at LYFE’s remaining three Chicago units are up year over year, Emily Paulsen, sales and marketing director of LYFE’s new owner, Chicago-based L3 Hospitality Group, told Restaurant Business.

“That continued sales growth has given us the confidence to move forward,” Paulsen said. “This is the beginning. I feel like we’re just at the starting line of this brand for us.”

Paulsen declined to release sales figures for the chain’s Chicago stores, nor would she speculate on what caused Carlisle to shutter a number of LYFE Kitchen units and sell off the concept. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Memphis, Tenn.-based Carlisle Corp., for its part, said it will shift focus to its 152 Wendy’s franchises, as well as a large-scale mixed-use development in Memphis.

L3 Hospitality became the only franchisee of LYFE Kitchen in 2013 and has operated with a high level of autonomy from the parent company, Paulsen said. The three Chicago LYFE Kitchens offered different menu items from the units in Tennessee and California. Unlike the others, the Chicago stores are open for breakfast in addition to lunch and dinner.

L3 also owns full-service restaurant Kinship and its limited-service neighbor, Next of Kin, in Evanston, Ill.

In the immediate future, LYFE’s new owners will focus on differentiating the Chicago brand with updated marketing, new to-go packaging and exterior signage and more, she said.

Beyond that, “expansion will be a big priority in 2019,” Paulsen said. L3 hasn’t completed the full growth strategy for the concept, she said, but there are plans to grow LYFE Kitchen in and around Chicago.

The field of health-focused fast-casual chains is crowded with growth-minded brands such as Sweetgreen and Honeygrow. At least one just-shuttered former LYFE Kitchen, in Palo Alto., Calif., is now a unit of the fast-growing Mendocino Farms chain. Paulsen, however, said LYFE Kitchen’s small size and new local focus allow it to make agile menu updates while providing a high level of customer service.

“That agility helps us differentiate ourselves,” she said.

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