Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Hard Rock Edge: Rock 'N' Roll Club Makes the Scene Again

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Hard Rock Edge: Rock 'N' Roll Club Makes the Scene Again

Article excerpt

It's 4 p.m. on a Monday and Orlando's Hard Rock Cafe is jammin'.

The rock 'n' roll-theme restaurant serves some of the priciest grub in town. But even at this off-hour, there's a line to buy $9 hamburgers and $2 soft drinks - not to mention T-shirts, key chains and baseball caps with the gold Hard Rock logo.

For Jim Berk, 37, the company's president and chief executive, all this is "very cool," and something he hopes to see often in the future. It has been a tough few years for Hard Rock, the quiet giant that dozed off while competitors, such as the brash Planet Hollywood chain, chewed away at its business. Now, with Berk at the helm and a half-billion dollars of new investment, the 25-year-old chain is working to regain its edge. In recent weeks, the company has announced plans for a television show, record label and other businesses designed to complement its restaurants. It also is stepping up the opening of new outlets, while plowing money into existing stores. "This is the awakening of Hard Rock," said Berk, a former music teacher who joined the Orlando company last April. "We're taking it to the next level, but we want to keep it fresh, cool and hip." The company took another significant step in December. It paid $61 million to buy back the Hard Rock franchise in Canada, adding 11 restaurants to its stable of 64. That followed a $410 million repurchase of Hard Rock restaurants in the western United States. Those deals let the company regain control of most worldwide rights to the Hard Rock name, which was sold in bits and pieces over the years. Now the company can launch future businesses without fear of territorial disputes. In the wings are plans for a new restaurant concept, which would be based on "monster" characters from the Universal Studios archives. Resort casinos are planned, too. The company also is replacing the Hard Rock at Universal Studios Florida with a larger outlet next year. The project will include a 2,200-seat amphitheater, giving the company a venue for live concerts. "The hardest thing to do is to make sure we don't move too fast," Berk said. "Our goal has been to focus on the core business and the logical extensions. …

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