COLUMBUS, OH-Following its April 2006 acquisition by Charlotte, NC-based Alliance Development Group LLC, Damon’s Grill now launches a strategy to rebuild the restaurant chain. The strategy dxtends to nearly all aspects of the operation and includes the sale of 19 of its company-owned units to a new Pittsburgh, PA-based franchisee, identified as Damon’s Management Group (DMG) LLC.

The franchisee is operating the units under the Damon’s brand, and, according to a statement, plans to open several new locations. “Pittsburgh has always been a great market for Damon’s, and we plan to expand our presence here with at least three new restaurants as well as in other cities,” says Mike Sabatini, president of DMG, in a statement.

The company will expand almost exclusively through franchising, according to Carl Howard, president and CEO. He says plans call for between 10 and 15 new franchised units within the next two years.

Alliance is a real estate services company that provides build-to-suits and sale/leaseback programs. Since the Alliance buyout, for an undisclosed price, Damon’s has completed seven sale/leasebacks on most of its remaining real estate holdings to Cedar Falls, IA-based Servant Investments LLC.

“Now that our debt is significantly reduced, we are in a much better position to focus on Damon’s future,” Howard says. The first step, according to Howard, is to reposition the chain to offer “better value and a dining experience that is different from its competitors. We will continue to be a sport-themed casual restaurant, but there will be major changes to our facilities and menu that will improve our traffic, frequency and profitability.”

Earlier this month, Damon’s hired Bruce Jackson as CFO. He is a 25-year veteran of Wendy’s International, most recently, regional finance director for Wendy’s Midwest region.

Damon’s is working with restaurant consulting firms, including Chicago-based Technomic and Dublin, OH-based W.D. Partners on its repositioning strategy. In addition, it has retained the San Francisco-based Culinary Edge to develop its new menu.

A new prototype will debut late this year. It is designed to appeal to a broader guest base and be more cost-effective to build and operate. It will feature new audio-video technology and a “brighter environment,” Howard says.

Regarding menu changes that are termed “extensive,” Jon Quinn, director of marketing, says, “Technomic found that to attract a greater array of guests and increase frequency, our menu needs a greater breadth of appeal.” The company recently introduced a two-tier kids’ menu featuring healthier entres and sides. New adult menu items include salads and entres of under 600 calories each.

Two new company-owned units are on the drawing board for Columbus, although the sites have not yet been selected. Howard says they “will provide a setting for us to test new prototypes, food and service programs and ensure that we maintain an operator’s perspective.”

The company also plans to sell its Columbus headquarters office and relocate the executive and franchise support offices to its nearby existing Learning Center, which will be expanded. “We have a lot of work ahead,” Howard acknowledges. “And, although we have experienced several difficult years, for the first time there is a sense of excitement and enthusiasm among our staff and our franchisees.” There are more than 80 franchised locations worldwide.

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