One of the most closely watched restaurant debuts of the year occurs in Citrus Park, FL this week when Paul Lee's Chinese Kitchen, a joint venture of P.F. Chang's founder Paul Fleming and the deep-pocketed Outback Steakhouse chain, opens for business. Aimed at a $14 price point that puts it somewhere below that of P.F. Chang's (from which Fleming has retired), the new full service concept is distinguished by the inclusion of two separate kitchens in the back of the house. One serves dining room customers, the other is dedicated to takeout. The partners expect that one-third of all revenue will come from takeout.
Both Fleming and Outback know how to build out successful chains, and they've expecting to open six or even eight Paul Lee's units in Florida and Arizona next year.
It sounds like a can't-miss proposition, but the chain may have some work to do. The first test unit opened earlier this year in Gilbert, AZ, near Phoenix, and drew a scathing review from Arizona Republic restaurant reviewer Howard Seftel. Here's part of his analysis:
"The long-awaited first unit debuted in Gilbert in September. Wall Street analysts, company accountants, industry observers and nervous competitors are paying very close attention. But most of us don't care about Paul Lee's bottom line. We just want to know: How's the food?
The answer is: blah.
Paul Lee's delivers low-impact Americanized Chinese dishes in a sleekly contemporary, Americanized setting, targeting the sodium-addicted masses."
Ouch. Look for plenty of fine-tuning on food quality when the second Paul Lee's Chinese Kitchen opens in Florida.