Inside Track: Investments in Leeann Chin are paying off

  • Article by: NEAL ST. ANTHONY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 19, 2013 - 3:24 PM
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Leeann Chin advertising, truck wrap Wingnut Advertising

Lorne Goldberg, the California businessman who bought locally based restaurant chain Leeann Chin in 2007, said he's invested $8 million to remodel existing stores, add 15 new locations and, most recently, add a low-fat selection to the menu.

From his nearly 50 mostly Minnesota locations, Goldberg expects revenue of $50 million this year, on top of record revenue and profit in 2012.

"We believe we are the largest Asian catering business in the Twin Cities," Goldberg said. "And we launched a mobile-based loyalty club in 2011 which gained over 300,000 members in its first year."

In recent years, the company introduced Grilled Bourbon and Mongolian Chicken, which catapulted to the top of the customer preference list.

And now comes "Asia Fit," a less-than-400-calorie menu for fat-conscious diners that Goldberg claims doesn't compromise flavor.

"This is the single-biggest initiative in the restaurant industry today," Goldberg said. "If you deliver low calories with real flavor, you set yourself apart from the competition. Moreover, you can acquire new guests who would not ordinarily dine with you. We have achieved this."

EXPANDING ITS REACH

Expanding Par Systems, which expects to complete a plant expansion at its Shoreview headquarters complex this spring, will see a nearly 50 percent increase in revenue to more than $150 million in the fiscal year that ends in March. The 450-employee firm, which makes huge robotic cranes for marine, nuclear, construction and industrial markets, has been growing at about a 20 percent annual clip over the past nine years, according to Brian Behm, president of Par's robotics business.

"It's a combination of internal growth and acquisitions," Behm said.

A growing international portfolio has accelerated growth recently, including naval-construction equipment for customers in Japan, South Korea and India, and huge robotic cranes for cleaning up nuclear disaster sites at Chernobyl and Fukushima. The 50,000-square-foot plant expansion represents a $10 million investment.

A BIOFUEL INCHES TOWARD GAS PUMP

A state task force that included corn and ethanol interests recently endorsed broadening Minnesota's ethanol-blending law to include other biofuels such as isobutanol. Like ethanol, isobutanol is an alcohol made from corn that can be mixed with gasoline as fuel. But a state law written years ago allows only ethanol to be blended with gasoline.

Gevo Inc. has wanted the law changed. The company last year converted a Luverne, Minn., ethanol plant to produce isobutanol but complained that Minnesota was one of two states where it couldn't be sold as fuel.

The biofuels task force appointed by Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson also endorsed other potential biofuels and renewable hydrocarbons as fuel blends as long as they meet federal standards. The issue now goes to the Legislature.

DAVID SHAFFER

LAND O'LAKES' SAUCY NEW PRODUCT

Minneapolis ad agency Campbell Mithun last week launched an advertising campaign for Land O'Lakes' new "Sauté Express Sauté Starter," the Arden Hills-based farmer-owned cooperative's latest venture into the world of cooking.

The "Mom wins" spot shows a harried mom taking care of her kids and then using the "no prep" prepackaged sauté to cook a stove-top meal in 30 minutes. "You score little victories every day," the voice on the commercial says. "Now you can do it with dinner."

Land O'Lakes Vice President Peggy Ellingson said the Sauté Express product is the first such product to be part of its "cooking platform strategy" to provide more than the basics of eggs, milk and butter. Selected by trade publication DairyFoods as the best new dairy product of 2012, Sauté Express combines seasoned butter, olive oil and herbs that go directly into the frying pan to add flavor to the likes of chicken, pork chops and fish.

DAVID PHELPS

STATE ROBOTICS DAY AT CAPITOL ROTUNDA

Minnesota robots will swarm the Capitol rotunda Jan. 28 for "Minnesota Robotics Day."

"The Twin Cities have emerged as a leading industrial cluster within the global robotics industry," said Andrew Borene, executive director of Robotics Alley, an industry trade group. "Minnesota's legislators, state government leaders and the public will have the opportunity to learn about some of the companies, universities and other organizations driving job creation and economic growth in the booming field of robotics."

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