Famed chef and restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten is up for one of this year's most prestigious James Beard Awards, but that's hardly the biggest thing on his mind. Fortune profiles the New York chef and his aggressive plans to open 50 new restaurants in the next five years.
Vongerichten, who already has 24 restaurants under his belt, has created a joint venture, Culinary Concepts by Jean-Georges, with Starwood Hotels and Catterton Partners, a private equity firm credited with turning P.F. Chang's into a national chain. The company's goal? To bring high-end cuisine to the masses in the same way Starbucks brought designer coffee to every corner of the world.
The venture will expand Vongerichten's name with three prototype restaurants: J&G Steakhouse, a steakhouse inspired by the success of Prime in Las Vegas; Spice Market, an homage to Asian street food based on the chef's wildly successful flagship in New York; and Market, a showcase for Vongerichten's signature dishes, such as tuna-wasabi pizza.
This year, Mexico City, Barcelona, Washington, Boston, and Milan are scheduled to open — although Austin, Aspen, and Dubai have already been put on hold given the uncertain economic times. Vongerichten is confident he's got the tools he needs to succeed — and if he doesn't, he can sell the restaurants and remove his name from all of them.
While the heavy expansion may sound overly ambitious given the economic recession, it's not all that different from what others — like Wolfgang Puck — have done. I question whether the Jean-Georges brand can succeed without becoming diluted. What do you think? Do you see this expansion plan being a success?