Cathie Anderson

Anderson: Sacramento gets taste of successful Maggiano’s chain

Cathie Anderson
Cathie Anderson

In the ultra-competitive restaurant industry, diners are always foraging for the latest and greatest concept, so it’s a remarkable achievement when a 23-year-old brand can report 18 consecutive quarters of comparable sales growth.

In August, the Maggiano’s Little Italy chain shared just that story with Wall Street analysts. Or, perhaps, it’s more precise to say that Maggiano’s parent company, Dallas-based Brinker International, reported those results. Brinker is better known as the owner, operator or franchisor of nearly 1,600 Chili’s restaurants. This week, Brinker opened only the 48th Maggiano’s, at Sacramento’s Arden Fair Mall.

Don’t let Maggiano’s minuscule size fool you. The hot Italian brand brought in 13 percent of Brinker’s overall sales revenue in the most recent quarter, and it’s not unusual for Maggiano’s to deliver that kind of performance or better. Given that momentum, why is Brinker opening just four Maggiano’s restaurants a year?

“We only will open when we find the right city, the right site and the right chef and management team, and those are not easy things to find,” said Maggiano’s brand president Steve Provost. “In this case, our chef Dan Grice wanted to move back to California(from Chicago) because his wife’s family is all around Sacramento, so we knew we had a great chef wanting to get here.”

Grice and his team will be only the second Maggiano’s kitchen staff to introduce the chain’s first-ever attempt at a lighter menu. The chain’s culinary experts worked for four years, Provost said, to develop recipes for lower-calorie Italian classics that were still filling and flavorful.

A Maggiano’s party2 typically spends $20-plus per guest, Provost said, and no one wants to go home hungry.