Building lasting relationships keeps Cerca Trova Restaurant Concepts at peak performance.
“Seek and you shall find.”
When it comes to restaurant management, the team at Cerca Trova Restaurant Concepts are truly inspired. It’s one matter to be an independent restaurant franchisee continually searching to find better ways to do business, but quite another to take on the mantle of one of America’s most famous casual dining brands with a mission to keep it fresh and exciting for generations of existing diners and those to come.
Add to that the challenge of being Bloomin’ Brands’ largest domestic franchisee, tasked with operating over 50 marquee restaurants in California and the Southwest, and you have exactly the kind of mouth-watering opportunities the Cerca Trova team drools over.
“‘Seek and you will find’ is a calling card in the dining industry, if you think about it,” Cerca Trova President and CEO Steve Weigel told BOSS. “You must find the answer: you always have to find a better way to run the business to give your guests the best overall experience at the best price possible while still staying profitable to build new restaurants and keep expanding.”
After C-suite stints at Tom’s Urban, Darden/Red Lobster, and Smashburger, and managing the Friendly’s Ice Cream chain out of ignominy to renewed relevance, Weigel is a skilled relationship builder, particularly in parent organizations with a global presence and a tight hold on their legacies.
Rediscovering the Outback Experience
Under Weigel’s leadership, 2017 saw the rebranding of T-Bird to Cerca Trova Restaurant Concepts and the near doubling of the company through the acquisition of all of the corporate Outback locations in Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico
As Weigel put it, “They’ve given us a lot of opportunity. They’ve worked with us in redesigning the restaurants; we have a brand new menu that’s drastically different in California that still delivers on the Outback favorites and experience, but just in a more unique way.
“We have fire pits, big patios, open air restaurants—to really give that California dining experience. They’ve been very open to it and we’re very excited with the partnership. This isn’t normal for a lot of franchise organizations, to give you that much opportunity to work together to solve problems.”
For Cerca Trova, that level of collaboration is the new normal.
“In a small franchise, you usually have one accountant for four or five restaurants; we redesigned it so we wouldn’t have to hire all those accountants to process all of the P&Ls. We bought the software so we could really run the business not like a franchise but as a company. That was the best acquisition for us at the time,” he revealed.
“Now we’re looking to do other concepts with them because of the ease of execution. We already know the systems, we already have the relationship, it’s easier to grow within their system and get the company even larger than it is for us to go to another company and pick up another franchise.”
Beyond Shrimp on the Barbie
A key part of Outback’s west coast renaissance includes sleek, remodeled restaurants and menu items designed to please Cali palates. In addition to offering USDA prime steaks, select sites offer meatballs, a protein bowl, and poke, among other gustatory pleasures. Cerca Trova is also working with Bar Rescue’s master mixologist Phil Wills to redesign Outback’s bars and drink menus.
Newly renovated locations feature frosted bar rails where your pint of Foster’s can hold its chill during a reimagined happy hour.
“It’s not just about lower priced drinks, it’s about great drinks and food,” Weigel stressed. “Sometimes people don’t want to go to happy hour where there’s a dollar beer because that might not be the crowd they’re looking for. We didn’t want to discount for the sake of discounting; we want to give a great dining experience in an atmosphere where people feel it matches our Outback design.”
In hiring, Weigel looks for people who have hospitality in their hearts.
“It’s great to have a finance background, but when it comes to operations, it’s very important that the person understands how to motivate people to do things differently, and to be very creative at the same time. Sometimes the answer might not be with the franchise and you’re going to have to sit there and work it out. You go back to them and say ‘here’s what I’m thinking,’ and work together at it.”
Weigel is proud to have built a franchisee organization with people and systems from large companies.
“I wanted the systems that large companies have that ensure good labor and good costs in a good environment. I wanted to make sure we had a safe environment for our managers and our Outbackers,” he said. “It’s important to me to have an environment where I feel every Outbacker is treated fairly and respectfully and that we have a system in our organization for feedback for anybody—from our front line people to the people who report to me.”
A partnership initiated by Cerca Trova with entertainment, ordering, and pay-at-the-table touch screen innovator Ziosk has been so effective that Bloomin’ Brands is exploring the possibility of implementing that technology in all of its locations.
Not only does the Ziosk system dramatically shorten the service cycle, it also helps waitstaff be as productive and guest-centric as possible by making them more quickly available to serve tables.
For Weigel, such partnerships are just the beginning.
“You’re going to see a lot more innovation from Outback,” he promised. “The design work that not only the people at Bloomin’ are doing as well as what we are doing in California is much more cutting edge than most people would expect. The food revolution we’re going through right now is impressive, and this is just the start of big changes in society and what we’re doing.”
Cerca Trova Restaurant Concepts is a restaurant management company headquartered in San Diego, CA, affiliated with dynamic brands including Outback Steakhouse, the premier casual steakhouse restaurant franchise with more than 750 locations in the U.S.
Cerca Trova Restaurant Concepts HQ
7676 Hazard Center Drive
San Diego, CA 92108