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I called him yesterday to get the scoop about the new Fashion Island location, which opens to the public Sunday, Sept. 9.
Steele being Steele, he told me tons of other interesting stuff that I'll also share with you.
But first, the new restaurant. The Fashion Island Yard House is on the Daily Grill side of the center near the parking structure. It will be smaller than a typical Yard House at about 8,000 square feet and seat 300 people.
Steele wanted a Yard House for years in his stomping grounds of Newport Beach. But he had a non-compete clause in his lease at Triangle Square that kept him from opening in town. He resolved that issue when new owners bought the Costa Mesa shopping center.
He plans several shindigs to celebrate. Usually, when a Yard House opens there are two private parties to kick things off. But for Newport, there will be three.
"I'm having my own personal party," Steele said. "You have to know me to get in. I know a lot of people here, and I'm inviting the Thursday night crowd, the people I know from Billy's (at The Beach) and 3-Thirty-3."Yard House Brea
Steele founded the first Yard House in Long Beach in 1996. The chain now has 16 locations. He and his partners hope to recapitalize the business soon to take out some cash, and have been talking to potential buyers for two years.
If a deal happens, Steele said not much would change, just some money and ownership would shift around.
"If I was going to retire, I'd go open a bar somewhere so I might as well stay," he said.
Plus, who would program the music? The guy spends an hour every day creating playlists. He makes them at home or at work, sends the list to a central computer, then the music is downloaded automatically at each restaurant. Different songs set different moods, and he wants just the right atmosphere.
"Music is one-third of who we are. Beer and food are the other two-thirds," he said. "Our music needs to be consistent just like our hamburgers need to be consistent."
That being said, Yard House may be looking to hire a music director soon - most likely a younger person who can introduce some tunes that will appeal to a new generation of late-night bar goers, he said.
Other interesting tidbits: Yard House's popular happy hour started about five years ago because the restaurants were dead from 3 to 6 p.m. The partners were leery of discounting food, but decided to give it a try. They sold appetizers for half-price, pints for $3.25, well drinks for $4.25 and martinis for $5.25. Of course it was incredibly successful.
A busy happy hour at Irvine Spectrum can now bring in $10,000, Steele said.
Other news: The first Yard House Bar & Grill opens in May in Chino Hills. The new prototype is designed to go after Chili's and Applebee's. It will look and feel like Yard House, but with less square footage and a smaller beer and food selection. The company is looking at the Marblehead center in San Clemente for a second location.
In the meantime, you may see Steele at the bar in Newport - and don't be surprised if he mingles.
"I'm probably the only CEO of all restaurant chains (at Fashion Island) who will personally come to your table and buy you a drink," he said. "Hey, I may even drink with you."
Yard House Fashion Island
Opens Sept. 9