Will KFC’s test concept look like this, or something completely different?

Welcome to the March 25 edition of the top-secret, always confidential Monday Business Briefing.

These are biz tips Insider Louisville staff and contributors have collected during the past few days, a few of which are NOT double-verified as with our daily reporting.

But this is the news about business and trends you’ll be reading about next week or even next month in the conventional media.

After three weeks of scoops that all ended up in the conventional media including last week’s PNC Bank suit foreclose on the $32 million Seminary Woods condo tower, this week, we have a little of this, a little of that.

And, of course, another big scoop.

• We’ve heard from multiple sources that Yum! Brands executives are planning to test a completely new fast-casual concept for KFC. And those sources all agree the test will be in the United States beginning as soon as June. What they don’t agree about is whether it’s a completely new concept, or a rework of a concept that has proven successful for KFC in Tokyo. We called Yum! Brands corporate communications for clarification, but received no response. Will the new restaurants be a take on a concept we told you about back in December?

Asia-based Albrecht Stahmer wrote about the Route 25 concept for Insider Louisville in Tokyo, a concept approved – as he points out – at the Gardiner Lane HQ, but executed only in Japan. Or does the new concept have nothing to do with Route 25, but with a completely new take on the chicken business, with new restaurant technology? Or at least updated technology. Our sources say the new concept is more about boneless chicken and new cooking technology for staging product. But the most tantalizing tidbit we’re hearing has to do with the possibility the new brand may include a Chipotle-style assembly process  in front of the customer.

That’s a huge trend in fast casual now – assembly to order in front of the customer, reinforcing the impression of freshness. Word started to leak when franchisees found out Yum! Brands planned an international test rather than a domestic trial. The response was ferocious: “Why are we testing it there?” To say there is tension between corporate and franchisees is an understatement. But as Albrecht reported, Yum! Brands under CEO David Novak seems increasingly interested in listening to its domestic franchisees and reacting to market changes effectively … while focusing like a laser on expanding in China, Asia and Africa.

Jack’s Bar & Grill in the Dubai airport.

• Speaking of internationally focused Louisville-based brands, Brown-Forman has chosen a predominantly Muslim – though liberal – country on the Saudi peninsula for its first  Jack Daniel’s pub. Totally unreported in its home town (except here), Brown-Forman is focusing heavily on duty-free shops in the world’s busiest airports. Now, BF just lent its top brand to what appears to be a new licensing effort. Jack’s Bar & Grill – the world’s first bar and restaurant dedicated to the Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey brand – officially opened last Thursday at Dubai International Airport, according to multiple beverage industry sites. Dubai is part of the United Arab Emirates, a booze-swilling oasis on the otherwise liquor-free Saudi peninsula. The 3,000-square-foot pub was developed by Emirates Leisure Retail with sister company Maritime Mercantile International and Brown-Forman. Insiders tell IL British-born Tony McIver oversees Brown-Forman’s moves into the parched Middle East. We see McIver as Brown-Forman’s version of Yum! Brands’ Jing-Shyh “Sam” Su, chairman of its China business – a guy who after years at the global spirits company totally gets how to build international business.

From The Moody Report:

(McIver) noted the Jack Daniel’s brand’s diversification outside its home market of the US as a factor in choosing Dubai for the project. “When I joined Brown-Forman 17 years ago, the vast majority of sales were in the US. Now it’s very different. Dubai is the centre of the world for aviation and our biggest customer is Dubai Duty Free. Many of the passengers are coming from markets that we see as the future for Jack Daniel’s – so it is a great fit for many reasons.” On the style of the unit, he added: “The restaurant fits the brand very well; it’s contemporary but traditional, with elements of the production process around Jack Daniel’s incorporated into the design. “Plus we’re able to offer the newly launched Sinatra Select version of Jack Daniel’s, which is available in only seven airports worldwide. It is here in Dubai too and it’s doing very well.”

ELR has a portfolio of restaurants, cafes and bars with more than 170 outlets, according to its website. Is this just the beginning of a beautiful relationship?

New signage at the Heaven Hill projects promises the Evan Williams urban bourbon distillery will open this fall.

• Speaking of booze, Heaven Hill looks like it will be the first to open a downtown urban bourbon distillery. New signage at Fifth and Main streets states the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience will open this fall. The sign lists Solid Light, as the museum and exhibit designer, Barnette Bagley as the architects and Abel Construction as the general contractor.

From the Solid Light web page, which has multiple renderings:

This premium attraction will celebrate the city’s Bourbon history and offer an immersive look at Louisville in the days of Evan Williams, Kentucky’s first commercial distiller and the namesake of Heaven Hill’s flagship brand. This exciting project will feature a dynamic multimedia experience, an artisanal distillery, two world-class tasting venues, and an exclusive retail store. The signature feature? A five-story-tall, upturned Evan Williams bottle pouring into a giant drinking glass in the lobby.

Meanwhile, work appears to have ceased at least temporarily on three blocks west at the Fort Nelson Building at Eight and Main that’s slated to become Michter’s Distillery. A year ago, we reported Joe Magliocco (Mag-lee-o-ko), CEO of parent company Chatham Imports, confirmed the New York-based company had closed on the Fort Nelson building after one year of zoning and due diligence. To his credit, Magliocco was clear he had no opening date. Not too long after that, construction crews added a huge iron truss on the east side of the building, a structure that blocks Eighth Street. Then, that was it. We didn’t get a response to calls for comment.

• Our sources are telling us Wayside Christian Mission will lose its current building at 432 E. Jefferson St. to the expansion of Interstate-65 just south of Spaghetti Junction. Wayside’s Nina Moseley has decided to move the daycare facility to Hotel Louisville on Broadway, say sources. But Wayside still intends to build a 40,000-square-foot building. They should have more than enough capital considering the $5 million they got for the NuLu buildings back in 2008, though the $10.5 million they paid for the former Holiday Inn hotel could be a complication.

• The Indiana media have been documenting the conflicts and travails of the Koch Family, who – you’ll remember – fumbled a play last year for Kentucky Kingdom. Ed Hart, who just got back the 60-acre amusement park, was certain the Koch’s attempt to get control of Kentucky Kingdom was a strategic move to tie up the property and keep the Louisville/Southern Indiana market for Holiday World. But now, it appears the Louisville move masked an internal battle that pits Dan Koch, former president, against his sister-in-law, Lori Koch, who’s taken control of the company, according to the Evansville Courier & Press and other news outlets. This story has more twists and turns than the old Chang roller coaster.

Actual Business Briefs:

• Realtor John Lenihan has won another legal skirmish in his high-profile, year-long legal battle to get back the $4.4 million Glenview mansion he sold to former RecoverCare CEO Mark Bidner. Lenihan alleges Bidner is in default. Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Susan Gibson overruled the foreclosure court’s finding that a legal technicality forbids Lenihan from evicting Bidner, opening the door to a summary judgement ordering Bidner out, and Lenihan back in.

• The Louisville Concours d’Elegance fundraiser for Kosair Hospital is moving to the West Baden Springs Hotel for 2013 after five years at Churchill Downs. A setting to equal the glamor of Louisville-based collector James Patterson’s collection of Delages and Bugattis.

• In response to the conversion of the Big Four Bridge into a pedestrian link between Louisville’s Waterfront Park and downtown Jeffersonville, the City of Jeffersonville has issued an RFP for a city-wide bicycle and pedestrian master plan. There are no numbers, but it looks like the city has some funding to identify what bikers and pedestrians want, and what Jeffersonville can afford. An opportunity for someone …. Read it for yourself here.

• A few weeks ago, we had a story about Current360’s big expansion. Now, we hear from multiple advertising industry sources who are telling us about significant workforce cuts. More as we know more ….