Jeff Benjamin of Vetri talks about the big change

Craig LaBan, Inquirer Food Critic

Updated: Thursday, November 19, 2015, 3:01 AM

Vetri Family's top management is (from left) founders Jeff Benjamin and Marc Vetri, and chefs Jeff Michaud and Brad Spence.

Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat:

Craig LaBan: We have a special guest from America's newest future pizza chain: Jeff Benjamin of the Vetri restaurant group (soon to be an Urban Outfitters subsidiary). Why did this happen, Jeff? It's one thing to partner with a big player to franchise the pizzerias, another thing to sell the whole company.

Jeff Benjamin: There are many reasons. First and foremost, we have the desire to grow. It's not a secret that the pizzeria is certainly a growth vehicle, but we believe that a few of our other restaurants may be able to be expanded, as well. A second Amis is coming to the Devon project, and we are really excited about that.

Reader: Is this the weirdest move ever? It makes very little sense to me.

J.B.: Not sure if it's weird, but, yes, it is certainly unconventional. Marc [Vetri] and I knew we wanted to grow, we knew we could no longer self-fund that growth, and we also knew we could only do it with a trusted partner. We believe that we hit on all those with this transaction. Time will tell, but I'm very confident. . . . We are currently looking at the entire country and pinpointing locations that work, then we can also determine which of the concepts work there.

C.L.: Marc has said, 'Nothing's going to change.' But those of us who've been through corporate changes know: Anytime someone involved says, 'Nothing is going to change,' it's time to worry. Corporate investors and stockholders have a very different standard for success than independents. Was closing Osteria at the Moorestown Mall the first move made with that kind of corporate oversight?

J.B.: Craig, you are right that is occasionally the case. However, that is why we are more comfortable with this transaction than the traditional PE [private equity] type that so many are doing. Nothing against those, but this is one where we felt we could maintain the greatest level of control. Sure, we will be looking at P&L [profit and loss] statements as one of many metrics for success but will also be able to look at some nonfinancial items. The truth is every successful business will have to be accountable financially. As to the Moorestown question, the timing is truly a coincidence.

Reader: URBN Stock is down about 11 percent in 24 hours . . . after the announcement and earnings reporting. I would be a wreck.

J.B.: Sure, stock price is a new consideration for me, but I don't anticipate a time when stock price is the sole or primary driver of our decisions. URBN has been very clear that their interest is the entrepreneurial spirit we bring and are confident in our ability to deliver results the way we already do.

C.L: Given that first disappointing attempt at melding a Vetri dining experience with the retail world at the Moorestown Mall, what about your plans with Urban Outfitters makes you optimistic that the results will be more positive?

J.B.: Other than the fact that the Osteria existed in a retail environment, there aren't many more similarities to this transaction. URBN will actually be partnering with us on site selection, lease negotiation, construction, and all other considerations. Once opened in any market, they will assist where possible, not just from a capital standpoint, but in co-branding with their other operations and simple advice and strategic planning. Much different than simply renting space.

Craig LaBan, Inquirer Food Critic

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