Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Muscles Into Eatertainment With sites forthcoming in Maui, Hawaii, Miami, New Orleans and Baltimore, San Clemente, Calif.-based Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. is beginning to amass a colony of themed restaurants. Based on the successful Paramount film Forrest Gump, the restaurant is a new player in the growing field of eatertainment, which combines food service with entertainment.

"People are looking for more than just a good meal and pleasant surroundings," says Scott Barnett, president and chief executive officer of Rusty Pelican Restaurants and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. He cites restaurants such as Rainforest Cafe and Planet Hollywood as establishing a benchmark for entertainment-influenced restaurant fare.

"They want something that's going to take their attention and something they can participate in," he continues. "Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. allows people to experience a well-loved movie in a restaurant setting."

The decor and menu of Bubba Gump's two existing locations -- a freestanding site in Monterey, Calif., and at Pier 39 in San Francisco -- give patrons a complete taste of Forrest Gump. Inside, varnished tabletops are decorated with script pages, storyboards, costumes and still photos; outside, guests can size up plaster castings of Forrest Gump's running shoes, or take a seat on the famed bus bench. There also is a retail store that sells souvenirs and clothing.

Bubba Gump has deep resources from which to draw in formulating its expansion and site selection plans. In 1995, Rusty Pelican Restaurants Inc., San Clemente, Calif., was approached by Viacom Consumer Products, Paramount's licensing division, to create the Bubba Gump restaurant concept.

"We thought it was a great idea," says Barnett. "We had in fact been looking to do a type of seafood concept anyway, so Bubba Gump fit nicely within our own strategic plan."

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.'s expansion plan, although perhaps slightly skewed to marina-based locations, is fairly wide in scope. "We're looking for high foot traffic, tourist-impacted areas," Barnett says. Although the southern United States is of particular interest, he says, the company remains flexible with geography.

"Where possible, we'd like to do [locations near] water, but we're not tied to that," says Barnett. "We'll do non-water locations if the site is compelling enough.

"We have good relationships with some of the nation's premier center owners and managers, including Rouse, Simon DeBartolo and Mills," he continues. "We're dealing more with developers who are doing festival-type centers, in contrast to the more traditional centers. We aren't ruling anything out completely, however."

Contact: Scott Barnett, president and chief executive officer, Rusty Pelican Restaurants Inc., 940 Calle Negocio, Suite 250, San Clemente, Calif. 92673; (714) 366-6260.

Great Earth Taps Franchisees, Malls For Healthy Growth Following a management change approximately four years ago, Hicksville, N.Y.-based Great Earth Cos. Inc. has begun an aggressive expansion campaign. In its plan to open between 25 and 30 new stores during each of the next three years, the retailer will focus on shopping centers, product customization and franchise agreements as keys to an enriched future.

According to Steve Stern, Great Earth's chief operating officer, the company's previous management was largely focused on making an initial public offering rather than on reinforcing the retailer's reputation in the vitamin supplement field. With a refocused direction as a 100 percent franchise-driven operation, the company can "get back to the position where its good faith, goodwill and name in the industry can be correctly reinforced," Stern says.

Great Earth is likely to strengthen its position by looking to regional malls as its primary expansion method. "Everybody wants to be in a mall today because you've got built-in traffic," says Stern. "In any retail situation -- whether it's vitamins, stationery or shirts and ties -- it's location, location, location."

Stern notes that the retailer's prospective locations will be more attractive if the centers are in health-conscious, family-oriented communities. "The malls are becoming more of a family experience," he notes. "With everybody becoming more concerned with health and wellness, the mall is a perfect setting [to reach Great Earth's target audience]."

Education of both consumers and store owners are areas Great Earth takes very seriously, says Stern. "Training is mandatory for franchisees, as it provides a strong support system," he notes.

The company promotes education for franchise owners through the company's Vitamin University (VU) in Cerritos, Calif. Courses at VU include vitamin and nutritional supplement basics, extensive product training and methods for applying the knowledge in a retail setting.

"We don't leave our franchisees in a lurch and say, 'Here's the key, here's the product, good-bye, good luck, and we'll see you next year,'" Stern says. "That defeats our purpose. We want our people on the cutting edge so they understand the product and the [selling] environment."

According to Stern, Great Earth's average store size checks in between 800 sq. ft. and 1,150 sq. ft., which poses challenges in site selection. "[Store placement] gets to be difficult at times in malls because [owners and managers might be] reluctant to carve out a little 800 sq. ft. spot for you," he says.

Great Earth has 130 franchised sites nationwide. According to Stern, the retailer will break into new MSAs -- including markets in Florida, New York, Delaware, New Hampshire and Canada -- in the coming months.

Contact: Steve Stern, chief operating officer, Great Earth Cos. Inc., 140 Lauman Lane, Hicksville, N.Y. 11801; (800) 37-GREAT.

Shifty's Adds Spice To Edison's Youth Stores In its nearly completed emergence from Chapter 11, Edison Brothers Stores Inc. is discovering still more depth in its retail fountain of youth. The St. Louis-based company, parent firm for such retail youth concepts as Wild Pair, 5-7-9 and Jeans West, is continuing the expansion of Shifty's, one of Edison's newer apparel and accessories concepts.

"It's what you'd call, 'the missing link' in Edison's strategy of dominating the youth market," says Paul Eisen, president of Shifty's. Eisen notes that, although the chain (introduced in 1994) is relatively new to the retail youth market, Shifty's is considered to be an asset as the company looks to return from bankruptcy protection. (See Shopping Center World, April 1997.) "Shifty's is largely considered to be one of the shining stars of the future for Edison Brothers," he says.

Shifty's fits perfectly with the re-emerging popularity of malls with teen-agers, says Eisen. "If shopping centers fell out of the good graces or the cool image with kids a few years ago when they became somewhat stale or cookie-cutter, I think they've remerchandised well enough that ... the youth [of America are] definitely still in the malls," he says. "[They shop] sometimes with mom, more times by themselves, but they're there."

The store's design sets a comfortable, entertaining tone for its patrons, with couches (the company reports that teen-agers have come to the store to do homework) and rich wood fixturing. "Shifty's was intended to be theater for youth," says company general merchandise manager Jay Spencer.

The store's merchandise -- equally a contributor to the store's theme -- is one of Shifty's best assets, with boys and girls apparel, accessories, novelties, and most recently, shoes. "As far as the merchandise mix goes, the greatest thing about Shifty's is that it's not nailed down to one product line to drive the business," he says.

Edison's other youth-based stores offer Shifty's the opportunity for co-branding and store adjacencies. However, Eisen notes, those ventures are in the future. "In the case of Shifty's, we have to get a bit more entrenched into our niche before we roll-out adjacent stores," he says.

Although Eisen is optimistic about Shifty's expansion, he does not point toward immediate plans. "We're in the process of some administrative changes at the company, so it's probably a little bit premature to predict what will happen in 1998," he says. "However, Shifty's has met Edison's plan as to what is needed in order to grow."

By the end of the year, Shifty's will have 18 units open in such markets as St. Louis, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, Charlotte, N.C., and Fort Wayne, Ind. Expansion markets for Shifty's lie coast-to-coast, says Eisen. "So far, we're pretty well focused on the Midwest and East Coast, which leaves an awful lot of tempting markets available," he notes.

"Florida has a tremendous amount of influx of youth at various times of the year -- spring break, holidays and summers -- so there is tremendous opportunity there," he continues. "And we haven't started anywhere west of the Mississippi, so there's still an awfully long way to go."

Contact: Mark Brown, executive vice president of real estate construction, Edison Brothers Stores Inc., P.O. Box 14020, St. Louis, Mo. 63178-4020; (314) 331-6000.