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Allan

Detroit Hard Rock Cafe Opens Today

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As of today, Detroit is a Hard Rock city

November 10, 2003

BY JOHN GALLAGHER

FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

Thirty-two years after the original Hard Rock Cafe became a hangout in London, Detroit opens its own version of the restaurant today in a move civic leaders hope will enliven the downtown scene.

The new Hard Rock is the most visible of a number of new or planned retail offerings downtown -- including a new Borders bookstore that opens today -- that Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's administration wants to encourage as the city prepares to host the 2006 Super Bowl at Ford Field.

Metro Detroit restaurateur Matt Prentice, soon to open his own restaurant high atop the Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center hotel, predicts the Hard Rock Cafe Detroit will pack in the crowds, at least initially.

"In their first year, they'll be honeymooning it, and they'll be jammed the whole first year," said Prentice, president of Bingham Farms-based Unique Restaurant Corp. "They'll just crank. Everybody will want to go see it. It's a happening. But after that first year, that's when we'll see."

That cautionary "we'll see" reflects a gloomy truism about the restaurant industry in Detroit and beyond. The industry is littered with failed eateries. Themed restaurants, whose Hard Rock-inspired concepts blend food and entertainment or special decor, have been prone to high-profile problems.

Also known as "eatertainment," themed restaurants such as Planet Hollywood and Rainforest Cafe have jumped into public view in recent years with successful first ventures but then slammed into financial roadblocks as they expanded.

Linda Lipsky, a retail consultant based in Broomall, Pa., said themed restaurants tend to be more expensive to operate and often lose their appeal to customers after their initial visit.

"It's not like an Olive Garden where you can open one and open another 10 miles away," Lipsky said. "They're destinations, and you're going there for a reason. That's going to be tricky."

But Steve Glum, director of marketing at Hard Rock's headquarters in Orlando, said Hard Rock has survived and flourished where others have failed.

"There's nothing like an originator," said Glum, who was in Detroit last week as workers scrambled to finish last-minute touches. "Other concepts kind of thought they could take our playbook and change the name, take out music and put in whatever. We've got something people can connect to, music and music memorabilia."

Indeed, the Detroit cafe comes with all the standard Hard Rock touches, including walls covered with guitars, gold records, photos and other souvenirs donated by rock musicians. There's a stage for live performances, and the retail shop sells the familiar Hard Rock Cafe T-shirts, caps, jackets, pins and other merchandise.

Hard Rock tries to localize, and Detroit's version will emphasize musicians who created the Detroit sound over the years, from Motown stars to Bob Seger, Madonna, Kid Rock and Ted Nugent. A 36-foot-tall replica of one of Nugent's guitars hangs outside the entrance in the new Compuware headquarters.

With its own Hard Rock Cafe, Detroit now joins cool cities like Key West, Fla., and New Orleans and world capitals like Paris, London, Beijing and Washington -- and a few places that may make you scratch your head. Hard Rock Cafe Beirut? (No, it's not a joke.)

On the other hand, Seattle, the veritable capital of West Coast cool, doesn't have a Hard Rock yet. Neither does almost-as-celebrated Portland, Ore., nor do some perfectly delightful cities like Vancouver, Canada, which is hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics. And a host of middle American cities like Cleveland and Indianapolis had their versions of the cafe before Detroit finally landed its own.

Glum denied the Hard Rock brand has grown a bit tired over the years.

"Do we have the same buzz? This brand has matured, it's 33 years old, no question about it. There's 116 of them all over the world now. Is it the same? Probably not. But we've been able to build on that and take that experience and expand on it and offer it on a worldwide stage. This brand travels very well internationally."

Perhaps Hard Rock's most surprising act is simply surviving. The recent history of the restaurant industry has seen hot concepts like Rainforest Cafe and Planet Hollywood hit the wall after initial growth spurts.

One problem was over-expansion. Restaurants like Planet Hollywood dazzled in their initial venture but found they couldn't repeat the success in dozens of newer markets.

"The stock markets, because they've inflated your price, are expecting you to open zillions of those things. The reality is that most markets can't support that kind of restaurant," Prentice said.

Hard Rock Cafe, by contrast, has rarely closed a cafe once opened and never had the brush with bankruptcy that has bedeviled Planet Hollywood and other chains.

The first Hard Rock Cafe opened in London in 1971. Founded by expatriate Americans Isaac Tigrett and Peter Morton, the cafe offered moderately priced casual American fare and ever-present rock 'n' roll. But it's part of Hard Rock lore that the trademark music memorabilia on the walls happened by accident.

Glum says that not long after the first Hard Rock opened in London, rocker Eric Clapton liked the place so much he donated a guitar to hang behind the bar. A couple weeks later rocker Pete Townshend sent over one of his with a note reading, "Mine's as good as his!" That started a collection of memorabilia now valued in the tens of millions of dollars.

The Hard Rock T-shirts, too, were more or less unplanned, Glum said. A London-area soccer team wanted a sponsor, and so the original cafe created a logo and put it on T-shirts. The concept soared.

Hard Rock began its global expansion in 1982, when Tigrett and Morton agreed to develop their own Hard Rock Cafes in various parts of the globe. Beginning in 1990, the Rank Group, PLC, a London-based leisure company, began acquiring the various separate Hard Rock operations to consolidate worldwide control.

Today, Hard Rock operates more than 100 cafes in more than 41 countries. Besides the new Detroit cafe, other new Hard Rock Cafes either open or planned include Moscow; Nassau, Bahamas; Cardiff, Wales; Catania, Italy; Louisville, Ky., and Hollywood, Fla.

Contact JOHN GALLAGHER at 313-222-5173 or [email protected] Business writer Greta Guest contributed to this report.

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Very cool from Detriot, although I've yet to visit Atlanta's hard rock cafe. I'm surprised it has survived, I thought it was going away with the olympics like so many other worthwhile places in DT Atlanta.

I need to visit their website a pull a complete list.

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