The brand is in a stable place for focusing on its core values and careful growth.
Looking ahead at 2020, the Barcelona Wine Bar team is more excited about the changes they aren’t making than about a laundry list of upcoming updates.
“There’s always a conversation about change, but I think there might be a conversation about the things we’re saying no to, or not adopting,” says Drew McConnell, the 18-location concept’s senior brand manager. “We’re able to go aggressively far into the core elements that create the magic in our restaurants because of relationships and systems we’ve built over time.”
The brand’s 400-plus wine list—a labor of love that involves not only choosing a set of mostly-Spanish wines, but also setting up a domestic distribution network for small wineries used—is evidence of this slow-burning approach. Menus that vary from location-to-location and a host of thoughtfully retrofitted historic locations across the U.S. further emphasize Barcelona’s thorough processes.
“Slow and steady is what works for us. There will always be evolutions and improvements, but the customer won’t ever visit and think that we’ve changed the restaurant. That’s not the intention or the goal,” CEO Adam Halberg says.
Ready for slow growth
This year, Barcelona’s ownership finally matches the stability of its brand culture.
After being sold to Del Frisco’s along with its younger-sibling concept bartaco in 2018, the tapas bar chain was sold again last summer, this time to L Catterton. During the two deals, the brand’s headquarters shifted from Connecticut, to Dallas, then back to Connecticut, with personnel and overall company culture shifting as well.
Now, Barcelona is ready to rest for a while, with Halberg, who’s been with the chain since 2008, in the position of CEO. The sale to L Catterton positioned the brand as a separate entity from bartaco and the brand is functioning independently for the first time, with an executive leadership team focused solely on making Barcelona more Barcelona.
“We’ve had a lot of distractions the past couple of years. Being able to place renewed focus on the heart and soul of what we do—rather than focusing on being bought, being sold, being bought, being sold, and all of the changes in systems, attitudes, and people that come along with that—is leading us onward and upward,” Halberg says.
Heading into the L Catterton sale, Barcelona reported first-quarter same-store sales gains of 3.7 percent as traffic boosted 3.6 percent, year-over-year, and average check was up just 0.1 percent. When Del Frisco’s purchased the brand, it billed Barcelona’s market potential between 50–100 restaurant. The concept generated $60.2 million in net sales in 2017 with average-unit volumes of $4.7 million on average checks of $35. At that time, Del Frisco’s said Barcelona’s sales to investment ratio was 2.3 times, and cash on return 57 percent.