Steamboat Springs Tilman Fertitta, CEO of the Landry's restaurant chain, said recently that Chart House restaurants in Steamboat Springs and Aspen are on the list for conversion to Joe's Crab Shack restaurants.
But Fertitta's landlord says it won't happen in Steamboat Springs.
"It is the Chart House. It's going to remain the Chart House," Steamboat businessman Tim Borden said Tuesday. "Neither my attorney nor I believe there is any legal way (Landry's can make the change) without my permission."
Borden said the terms of his lease with the restaurant give him the right to veto concept changes.
Fertitta, in an interview with a Rocky Mountain News reporter last week, mentioned plans for the Chart House in Steamboat while talking about his company's strategy.
Landry's, listed on the New York Stock Exchange and with annual sales approaching $1 billion, purchased the 38-restaurant Chart House chain in August 2002 for $45.5 million and assumed debt. Since that time, the seafood giant also acquired the Ocean Journey aquarium in Denver. Landry's will continue operating the aquarium and build a themed restaurant on the site.
Borden built the Chart House location in Steamboat 14 years ago. He was acquainted with the founders of the chain and constructed the building to their specifications.
Borden said he is impressed with Landry's and the success of the company. He says he has visited six or seven Joe's Crab Shacks, dined at restaurants in Indiana and California, and spent many hours talking to their managers.
"I have nothing against Joe's Crab Shacks," Borden said. "I frankly like Joe's Crab Shacks as a place to buy seafood. But I don't think it's right for this location in Steamboat Springs. I won't say I haven't considered their other concepts."
Part of Borden's difficulty in embracing the crab shack concept is that it would be very difficult to remodel the exterior of the existing building to fit the chain's rustic, waterfront theme.
Borden said he would be open to several other Landry's concepts.
Borden said to avoid any confusion, his attorney, Ward Van Scoyk, has sent the company a certified letter stating his unwillingness to have the property converted to Joe's Crab Shack.
The restaurants have a casual family atmosphere and are decorated in a marine memorabilia theme. Patrons who order the house specialty are offered a bib and a mallet with which to crack their crabs. Borden pointed out the restaurant offers dancing lessons every 45 minutes.
Landry's has chosen to grow by acquiring existing restaurant chains with proven locations after it took losses when it attempted to grow by building new stores.
Industry analysts say Fertitta has managed to buy existing chains at attractive prices. Fertitta told the Rocky Mountain News that all of the chains he has acquired could benefit from his company's management strategies.
In an interview with writer David Farkas published in the trade magazine "Chain Leader," in November 2002, Fertitta talked about his goals for Chart House.
"There are 39 Chart House units. We're selling off three this year and converting 10 to Joe's Crab Shacks, mainly on the West Coast," Fertitta said. "The remaining 26 average $3.7 million even today. We feel the 26 will be at $4 million-plus easily."
Fertitta said his company would invest in the restaurants that retain the Chart House name and tweak their menus.
"You'll see lots of menu changes, more seafood and more beef," Fertitta said. "Right now, the restaurants don't execute well. We're adding lots of new (kitchen) equipment. And customers won't be seeing a 1970s dining room. They'll see a 2000 dining room. It will be traditional looking, yet upscale and modern. It's going to fit the check average of $25 a head."
Kevin Larson, director of operations for Landry's/Joe's Crab shack in Denver, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Joe's Crab Shack boasts on its Web site that it sells 250,000 pounds of shrimp and 416,000 pounds of blue crab annually. It also sells Dungeness and Alaskan king crab. For diners who prefer not to go with the trend, the restaurants serve gumbo, clam chowder, steak, chicken and salads.
Joe's Crab Shack has several Front Range locations, one in Aurora, one in Westminster and two in Colorado Springs.
Other restaurants in the group include Landry's Seafood House. The restaurants have red brick storefronts recognizable by their movie theater-style marquees. There are many locations in Texas stretching east along the Gulf Coast through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Landry's Seafood restaurants are also found in the Carolinas, Mid-Atlantic states and there are a significant number in Ohio and northern Indiana.
Saltgrass Steakhouse restaurants are found in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin. They serve certified Angus beef as well as chicken and seafood. Their interiors are adorned with longhorn steer and deer mounts. Saltgrass makes its breads, desserts, salad dressing and soups in house.
To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205 or