- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 5, 2006

Expansion is on the menu for a local Tex-Mex restaurant chain. Thompson Hospitality Corp., a Herndon food-service company, bought the Austin Grill chain last week with plans to infuse the company with capital to expand nationally.

Austin Grill’s management team is staying on, and the parties plan to expand the six-restaurant chain across the Washington area, including smaller versions in airports and on college campuses. Then they plan to seek out franchisees in other cities.

Chris Patterson, president and chief operating officer of Austin Grill, said the company sought a buyer because it was looking to grow.

“The only thing lacking in the management team was the capital to grow the business,” he said.

Mr. Patterson said he doesn’t fear losing Austin Grill’s neighborhood feel now that it is part of a larger operation — a common problem when local chains start franchising.

“I’m not worried at all, mainly because the entire management team was really required to be part of the deal,” he said. “We’re very like-minded companies. … I’m very comfortable that we share one vision. That made the transition an easy one for me.”

Warren Thompson, chief executive officer of Thompson Hospitality, said he was drawn to the company’s funky Tex-Mex culture, as well as its food and service quality. Mr. Thompson declined to reveal the purchase price.

He said little will change under Austin Grill’s new ownership.

“They have the autonomy to run the business in the fashion they’ve been running it,” Mr. Thompson said. “It’s not broken, so there’s no need to make changes.”

The first store to open under Thompson Hospitality is scheduled to be in Rockville Town Center in the spring.

The company hopes to have partners outside the Washington area — in cities such as Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Los Angeles — within three years.

Macy’s parades into Montgomery

A little piece of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will be in Westfield Montgomery in Bethesda Thursday.

From 3 to 7 p.m., Macy’s will host a demonstration of how the parade’s balloons and floats are made, an interactive storytelling of the parade’s history, a photo opportunity in a simulated NBC broadcast booth and a training course on how to fly a parade balloon.

It’s one of 23 stops on a cross-country tour promoting the Thanksgiving Day Parade, after the Sept. 9 conversion of many regional chains, including Hecht’s, to Macy’s.

The tour is targeting cities such as Chicago, Boston and St. Louis where Macy’s replaced beloved hometown chains.

In other news …

• The Fairfax County Planning Commission postponed a vote Thursday on whether to recommend a zoning change at Tysons Corner Center that would more than double the size of the development. The commission needs more time to review the proposal, a spokesman said. The vote has been rescheduled for Dec. 7.

• CityZen, an American cuisine restaurant in the District’s Mandarin Oriental hotel, was given a Five-Diamond Award in AAA’s 2007 travel guide. It’s the District’s only restaurant with a five-diamond ranking.

Retail & Hospitality runs Mondays. Contact Jen Haberkorn at [email protected] or 202/636-4836.

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