Ian Baines is president and CEO of Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill. The chain broke off from Darden Restaurants a year and a half ago and has been remaking its image. Baines, 52, talked with Sentinel staff writer Sandra Pedicini.
CFB: Tell me a little bit about the changes that have been going on at Smokey Bones since it has broken off from Darden.
We put a lot of effort into really ramping up the atmosphere and the energy within the restaurants. ... We really expanded the menu, put more steaks onto the menu, fish, and we also started to put in some bolder flavors. ... What came out of that was this whole concept of fire grilling. And so hence, we changed the name to Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill. Once we got the menu done, then we shifted our focus to the bar. We really wanted to re-energize the bar. We see that as being sort of the heart of the restaurant, where all the energy comes from, making the bar into a very comfortable, social place.
CFB: Are you trying to play down the family aspect of the original concept?
No. Not at all. ... (In the remodeled restaurants) we really separate out the dining room from the bar. So what we tried to do was create more than one reason for a guest to come to Smokey Bones. The same consumer could come with their family for dinner on a Thursday night and, you know, maybe the guy from the family might come back on Saturday at lunchtime and watch the college football game at the bar.
CFB: Will all the restaurants be remodeled?
Yes. ... We plan to do at least 10 more before the end of this year. ... We're happy with the return on the investment that we're seeing from the increased sales and guest counts.
CFB: What's been going on with sales?
I will say that the trends are very encouraging. Certainly they are extremely encouraging in those restaurants where we have done the remodels.
CFB: How challenging has it been to make these changes in the midst of this economy?
There are many things that are outside of our control. If we allow ourselves and our teammates and our managers to dwell on those, then it becomes a distraction, so we've kept ourselves and our teammates and our managers busy in a good way. We've always got new and exciting things taking place. ... We've been able to revitalize our bar business and give our guests another reason to come to Smokey Bones, not only to dine but to come for the bar ... The bars and those kinds of places in this economic environment are actually doing really well. It doesn't mean that people go there and drink a lot. A big part of it is they want to get out and socialize.
CFB: Tell me a little bit about what it was like to transition from working with a large, publicly held corporation like Darden to running the chain under its new ownership.
Darden, I have such high regard for. ... When they made that decision to take a different direction with Smokey Bones, it was absolutely the best thing for Smokey Bones. It was absolutely the best thing for Darden. ... It was a turnaround brand. ... As an independent company, the decisions can be made much more quickly because its not part of a huge corporation. That's no slight of Darden, because they're a great company, but large companies tend to move a little slower and also Darden is ... very conservative and careful in their thinking. To turn something around, you've got to take risks.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun