Coneys: The New Frontier

Sunday, October 21, 2007

David Rutkauskas is getting a hot reception for his new hot dog chain.

The Tulsa restaurateur, who's built quite a reputation with his wildly successful Camille's Sidewalk Cafe franchise, opened his first Coney Beach establishment in Tulsa in July.

Coney Beach features gourmet hot dogs, hamburgers and fries.

The restaurant's fast-casual setting is similar to the strategy Rutkauskas pioneered with Camille's, which offers sandwiches, pizza, soups, salads and smoothies.

It took 10 years for Camille's to grow into an international franchise powerhouse, with 117 now in place. In contrast, it has only taken 12 weeks for Coney Beach to go global.

Overseas growth In an exclusive interview, Rutkauskas toldme his Beautiful Brands firmhas signed a franchise deal with Jawad Business Group to bring Coney Beach locations to regions in the Middle East, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Rutkauskas also has completed a separate pact with a veteran restaurant operator that will put Coney Beach into Florida. Other franchises are pending in Oklahoma, Texas and California, as well as South America.

"I think Coney Beach eventually will havemore locations than Camille's," Rutkauskas said by telephone.

That would be impressive, since a new Camille's is opening somewhere in the world every seven days.

As for the quickmove into the Middle East, Rutkauskas said the JBG franchise group already has had success with Camille's there, as well as other U.S. brands such as Chili's, Burger King and Papa John's.

A JBG representative visited Tulsa this summer to check out Coney Beach, at 11089 S.Memorial Drive. Although it was the gentleman's first hot dog, he fell in love with the classic American creation.

"When you go into a region with an itemthat no one has ever tasted, there is tremendous opportunity," Rutkauskas said.

Gourmet concept The Tulsa entrepreneur admits that selling hot dogs hardly is a new idea. His twist is to do it in a fast-casual setting—that, for now, is unusual if not nonexistent for that menu item.

It's something he knows a lot about.

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