Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, the artist formerly known as Puff Daddy, is bringing his restaurant chain to Washington.
Justin’s, named after the hip-hop mogul’s oldest son, also is scouting other locations, including Miami, Houston, Detroit and Chicago.
The company is looking for an 8,000-square-foot to 11,000-square-foot site for its upscale restaurant that offers soul food and Caribbean cuisine and already has a “couple possibilities” in Washington, said Andre Suite, executive vice president of Justin’s.
“We want to penetrate key market areas, with D.C. being at the top of that list,” Mr. Suite said.
By the end of the year, the chain, which has a location each in New York and in Atlanta, is expected to open one D.C. restaurant and two more in other markets, he said.
Mr. Suite called the District “one of the most influential areas in the country.” It’s also “close to Puff’s heart,” because the rap artist and record producer attended Howard University.
Mr. Combs is in an industry in which celebrity-owned restaurants are constantly popping up, and in some cases falling by the wayside. Mr. Suite, without getting into specifics, said some of the restaurants that have failed have “relied too much on the celebrity.”
“They thought that would take the place of food and service,” he said.
Recently Britany Spears’ Nyla a Cajun restaurant that has turned Italian opened in June 2002 in New York. In November, Miss Spears pulled out of the project, closing the eatery.
Planet Hollywood, originally backed by actors Whoopi Goldberg, Demi Moore, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis, has had a star-studded struggle. The company, which once had 95 locations, filed for bankruptcy twice and now operates just 10 locations.
Mr. Combs’ former girlfriend, entertainer Jennifer Lopez, also has ventured into the restaurant business. Her restaurant, Madre’s, which offers Cuban cuisine, opened in April 2002 in Pasadena, Calif.
Closer to home, basketball star Michael Jordan opened Jordan’s at 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. in February 2002. That’s in addition to other restaurant ventures in Chapel Hill, N.C., and in New York and Connecticut.
Don Shula, former Miami Dolphins coach, owns Shula’s Steak House, which has locations in the District and in Tysons Corner. Former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann is in the business, too, with restaurants in Alexandria and Elkridge, Md.
“The celebrity status is a bonus, but the restaurant has to deliver on the expectations of its guests,” said Victoria Isley, vice president of the Washington DC Convention & Tourism Corp.
Arlene Spiegel, a restaurant consultant in New York, agrees.
The celebrity’s name “will get people in the door out of curiosity and appeal to tourists, but if the food and service is not good … the celebrity aspect does not carry the ball,” she said.
Mr. Suite said the restaurant isn’t relying on Mr. Combs’ name for success.
“Puff’s name is recognizable, but that’s not the driving force,” he said. “He’s managed to run a successful restaurant.”
Justin’s menu, which starts at $7 for appetizers and costs as much as $28 for some entrees, reveals a bit of the Combs connection. Top sellers include P. Diddy shrimp and a special martini called the P. Diddy.
Justin’s first opened in New York in 1997. The 6,000-square-foot restaurant is nearly half the size of its sister site in Atlanta, which opened in 1999. The two locations have annual sales of about $8 million.
Mr. Suite estimates the chain will grow to at least 25 to 30 restaurants.
“Now we understand the business and understand how to be profitable,” Mr. Suite said. “It’s the best time for us to grow.”
Justin’s will sell licensing agreements to qualified investors to own and operate Justin’s restaurants, but they will not be franchisees. The restaurants will be managed by Justin’s officials.
In addition to his restaurant venture, Mr. Combs runs Bad Boy Entertainment, which has produced hits for such artists as the late Notorious B.I.G. and Faith Evans, owns a clothing line called Sean Jean and is the chief executive officer of Blue Flame Marketing and Advertising, a brand-building company.