Not one to sit still, multi-concept operator John Kunkel is brewing a new Latin American concept scheduled to open in Las Vegas early next year.
To be named Chica, the new restaurant will be the latest addition to his Miami-based 50 Eggs, which is parent to the full-service Yardbird Southern Table & Bar concept, specializing in fried chicken and Southern fare, along with the fast-casual Spring Chicken. The company also operates the bar-centric Swine, a barbecue and blues joint.
All three existing brands are growing.
Next year, the third and fourth locations of Yardbird, respectively, are scheduled to open in Singapore and in Beverly Hills, Calif. Existing units are in Miami and Las Vegas.
The three-unit Spring Chicken, all in Florida, has a new location set to debut later this year at Miami International Airport. Unlike the others, the airport outlet will also have a full bar, with a focus on bourbon.
Kunkel is also looking for a second Ft. Lauderdale-area location for Swine.
Chica in Las Vegas, meanwhile, is being developed with the help of television chef and restaurateur Lorena Garcia, who has also worked as a consultant for HMS Host and Taco Bell. Garcia operates restaurants in Miami and Atlanta airports, with another scheduled to open in Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport this year.
Born in Venezuela but a longtime resident of Miami, Garcia brings a knowledge of the Latin flavors that Chica will spotlight, Kunkel said.
The concept will bring together dishes from across Latin countries, from Peruvian ceviches to Argentinian steak. There will be a churrasco grill, rotisserie meats and dishes like arepas or street snacks, says Kunkel. The beverage program will focus on tequilas and rum, along with South American wines.
“It will be gringo friendly,” Kunkel explains. “We were inspired by what we see in Miami as a melting pot for Latin flavors. We want it to be authentic, but not to feel contrived and Disney like.”
The restaurant will open in a hotel property on the Las Vegas strip, though he’s not ready to reveal exactly where.
It’s not the first time Kunkel has veered away from Southern flavors. He was creator of the fast-casual Lime Fresh Mexican chain in South Florida, which he sold in 2012 to Ruby Tuesday for $24 million. Ruby Tuesday later ended up closing or selling those restaurants.
Kunkel also launched a Thai concept most recently called Khong River House in Florida that is no longer open, though he doesn’t rule out revisiting Asian flavors.
Kunkel says his Southern concepts, however, have plenty of runway.
Yardbird, positioned as “approachable fine dining” with a $55 to $65 per person price range, is a restaurant Kunkel would like to bring to markets like New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., London and Dubai, and to do it without franchising.
Observers were skeptical when Kunkel first opened Yardbird, which featured a “cheffed up” version of his grandmother’s fried chicken and savory waffles, in South Beach.
It was the “land of bikinis and Red Bull and sushi,” he said. “But it’s blown the doors off.”
Kunkel figures the original restaurant, at a relatively small 3,800 square feet, will do about $11.5 million in sales this year. The Las Vegas location, at 8,500 square feet, is expected to hit $13 million next year.
Swine, which has about 90 seats, is expected to reach $3.8 million to $4 million in sales this year.
The first two Spring Chickens are averaging about $3.5 million each, though they are larger units at 3,500 to 3,800 square feet. The much smaller South Beach location, with only 18 seats, will do about $1.8 million this year, Kunkel says.
At Spring Chicken, which Kunkel describes as “Yardbird meets Shake Shack,” the menu features chicken sandwiches, shakes, salads and sides. The average check is $16 to $18.
In a few weeks, the concept will roll out brunch on weekends, which Kunkel says could lead to the addition of breakfast down the road.
Along with growing the portfolio, Kunkel has also bought an historic 1930s hotel that he is converting into offices for 50 Eggs, along with a test kitchen that he hopes will become a gathering place for the culinary community of Miami.
“It’s a flag in the ground,” says Kunkel. “We’re here to stay and we expect to innovate.”