wining & dining
UPDATING THE STEAKHOUSE CONCEPT AND GIVING WINE EQUAL BILLING HAS FLEMING’S PRIME STEAKHOUSE & WINE BAR ON A NATIONWIDE ROLL
PHOTOGRAPHY DEBORAH MICHAEL RADKE
Just the name of the place lets you know that the experience is about more than meat and potatoes. The restaurant is called Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. For most of the other chains and independents in this segment of the business, the image is all about the beef.
Marian Jansen op de Haar, wine director, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar.
And with its emphasis on aged USDA prime corn-fed beef, hand-cut daily into steaks in each restaurant, Fleming’s is certainly a contender in that arena. But it’s with the other half of the title–“wine bar”– that Fleming’s, with its selection of 100 wines by the glass, takes a bold move to set itself apart from other concepts with a similar menu. In the markets where Fleming’s has opened so far, that point of emphasis has found an enthusiastic audience. According to wine director Marian Jansen op de Haar, around 27% of all Fleming’s sales volume comes from wine alone (sales of all other beverages account for about another seven or eight % of the company’s total).
“Without question, our wine program creates a unique point of differentiation and has become an integral part of the dining experience at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar,” says chain co-founder Bill Allen. That point of differentiation has won the chain accolades from a wide variety of sources, including the 2003 Cheers Award For Beverage Excellence–Best Chain Restaurant Wine Program.
The Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar was launched in December 1998 in Huntington Beach, CA, by industry veterans Paul Fleming and Bill Allen. Fleming’s background includes a dozen years as an operator of Ruth’s Chris Steakhouses and the development of the Z’Tejas Grills and P.F. Chang’s concepts, while Allen made his mark with Marriott and as ceo of the La Madeleine French Bakery and Café and Koo Koo Roo chains. To date, Fleming’s is a chain comprised of 18 units and ambitious expansion plans call for another five to seven openings each year. The corporate business structure is comprised of a series of partnerships, with ownership divided among Allen and Fleming, Outback Steakhouse and a number of regional partners as well as managers and chefs of individual restaurants who also have an ownership stake in the enterprise.
“We founded Fleming’s on the premise that a steakhouse need not be expensive, stuffy nor an exclusive domain for men, and what we have created is a dining experience that is as equally appealing to women and couples,” says Allen. “We offer fine food and a broad selection of wine within a comfortable environment that is further complemented by attentive and knowledgeable service. Since its inception, response has been strong and Fleming’s has quickly evolved into the neighborhood steakhouse.”
The menu of steaks (filet mignon, ribeye, NY strip), chops (veal, Australian lamb, pork rib) and seafood (charred salmon fillet, grilled swordfish, tuna mignon, almond cilantro crusted shrimp, seared curry scallops, lobster tails, king crab legs), certainly gives diners a wide array of appetizing entrees, but it’s Fleming’s wines that keep them thirsting for more. At Fleming’s, all aspects of the wine program fall under the jurisdiction of wine director Marian Jansen op de Haar.
“The thing that makes us most different is probably the size of our list and the fact that you can get everything by the glass,” says Jansen. “And the price is the same whether you buy a 2-oz. Taste, a glass or the entire bottle.”
“I guess another difference is that we keep our wines at the right temperature so that they are served properly to the guest. The reds are at 60 (