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A taste of Italy taking hold

By Chris Bishop
Burlington County Times Business Editor

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, October 11, 2011 - Even with a slowly recovering economy, restaurateurs apparently believe Burlington County taste buds can stand more variety.

The latest to enter the food fray is Brio Tuscan Grille, which already has a restaurant at the Garden State Park in Cherry Hill. The Tuscan-inspired Italian cuisine has attracted many diners to the Camden County location, company officials said, and they believe the new outlet — at the upscale Promenade at Sagemore in Evesham — will also succeed.

Brio Tuscan Grille opened Oct. 5 in the former Hugo Boss on Route 73. The eatery offers northern Italian fare with made-to-order pastas, grilled and oven-roasted steaks, fish, salads and flatbreads.

“Competition exists everywhere in the country,” said Saed Mohseni, CEO of Bravo Brio Restaurant Group, the restaurant’s parent company. “The great thing about competition is it makes us to be better.”

“With the economy, consumers are more picky than ever,” Mohseni said. “But we have continued to grow in the last five years because of price point, quality food, and ambiance. We are able to build on that.”

The company also projects continued success this year. Revenues are expected to be in the $365 million to $370 million range for 2011 and total comparable restaurant revenues are expected to increase from 1 percent to 3 percent, company reports show. Mohseni, who joined the company in 2007, earned $1.18 million in compensation last year according to the company’s proxy statement.

The company, started in 1987, went public in the fall of 2010. It has 90 restaurants in 29 states. The Evesham eatery is the second in New Jersey with two more planned for the Garden State later this year.

Company officials claim they had an average annual revenue of $5 million at its Brio restaurants; those outlet openings require a net cash investment of $2.2 million.

The other brand the company operates is Bravo! Cucina Italiana.

At the Evesham restaurant, the company transformed the former Hugo Boss clothing store into a place with antique hardwood cypress flooring, hand-crafted walls and arched colonnades. The 8,000-square-foot building can accommodate 275 diners and 60 guests for bar seatings. It has a full-service terrace that handles up to 85 guests.

In an interview at the restaurant before it opened, manager Vince DiVentura, a Franklinville resident, said the company started renovating the building in April. It will employ 150 full- and part-time employees.

Ahmed Talal El, executive chef at the new restaurant, joined Brio in 2003 as a line cook and worked his way up.

He said he was a hands-on chef and would help out with whatever needed to be done.

“I’ll do the cooking, wash dishes, whatever it takes to make the guests happy,” said El, a native of Richmond, Va., who now lives in Collingswood.

“You gotta treat people the way you want to be treated,” the chef said.

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