Correction: The original version of this post incorrectly stated Tumbleweed at Waterfront Park’s last day of business; they will close for good on Saturday, Nov. 15.
Since consumers use restaurants for nourishment and socializing, they rarely realize that they’re some of the most complex and challenging businesses to run. This week’s roundup shows why.
Hasta la vista, Weedy: Saturday is the official last call at the mammoth riverside Tumbleweed Tex-Mex restaurant. After struggling for some time to operate profitably at the high-profile site, the chain is throwing an Hasta La Vista party for a final hurrah and to clean out perishable inventory. (The party starts at 6 p.m. Saturday.)
Tumbleweed’s owners blamed the operation’s failure on a costly lease and the Ohio River bridges project for blocking traffic to the restaurant. They wanted to renegotiate the lease for more favorable terms, but the landlord, Waterweed, LLC, wouldn’t.
And probably shouldn’t. Tumbleweed is not new to the restaurant game. Its owners knew what they were getting into. Leases are contracts and contracts should be honored—well, for everyone except college sports coaches, right?
Tumbleweed also is—or at least should be—aware that its declining product quality also has a lot to do with traffic declines. “The Weed” had little competition in the region during the 1980s and much of the 1990s. But as solid Mexican restaurants moved in, it didn’t adjust, didn’t up its game and strive to improve or differentiate its products. Customers caught on and went elsewhere. Their better ingredients, better food, better drink and better service have slowly beaten back what once was a market leader.
At one time the company had more than 40 restaurants. Now that count is down to 24. Its showplace restaurant will become a mere memory in hours, leading some to wonder if this is a harbinger for Tumbleweed’s future overall.
Berg mooooves into top spot at Comfy Cow: The Comfy Cow has been a legit, buttoned up operation since opening four years ago. Now, however, things are getting serious for the superb maker of sweet frozen desserts.
Owners Tim and Roy Koons-McGee recently appointed retired Brown-Forman executive Don Berg to be the brand’s CEO and guide the company’s growth. Berg served the Louisville liquor maker for 26 years, most recently as its chief financial officer. His previous roles included a wide array of international market development duties. That experience in particular is why Comfy Cow’s founders want Berg to direct the Cow to new pastures where it can graze for dollars.
“We need somebody with some experience to tell us what to do,” said the typically self-effacing Tim Koons-McGee. “Seriously, there’s a lot of truth to that. We’ve proven the brand works here, but we’ve asked Don to come aboard to guide our growth strategically.”
Growth means new scoop shops and grocery store sales. Having helped Brown-Forman create new markets in South America, Berg plans to bring that same studious discipline to the Cow. He said changes are coming, but not necessarily ones customers will see.
“We have to expand production in a significant way to meet our current growth,” Berg said. “We’re actively seeking a place to build a commissary kitchen because we’ve outgrown our facility on Frankfort Avenue.”
At the outset, added production will mean more Comfy Cow ice cream on grocery store shelves. Koons-McGee said this year’s retail launch with Whole Foods not only exceeded expectations, the grocery chain wants to expand distribution regionally.
Berg, 59, planned to open a Comfy Cow franchise store in Tennessee when he retired, but the Koons-McGees offered him a larger role that he eagerly accepted.
“The brand is fantastic, a super-premium product with great loyalty and with (owners) who’ve done an amazing job creating the right experience in a vintage setting,” he said. “It has huge potential.”
Two new franchise stores, one in Clarksville and one in Nashville, are in the works.