Burgers and bustiers may not seem like a very good match, but one of the nation's fastest-growing retail chains is betting big on it.
Merry-Go-Round Enterprises Inc., the Joppa, Md.-based specialty retailer of trendy clothing for young men and women, is rolling out its newest retail concept in Washington tomorrow -- a combination clothing store and full-scale restaurant operation called Boogies Diner.
After testing one location in Chicago last year, Boogies Diner is going national, funded by some of the more than $40 million in cash that Merry-Go-Round has accumulated in recent years from the success of its 655 retail stores, including Merry-Go-Round Fashion Boutiques, DJs, Attivo, DeJaiz, Silvermans and Cignal.
The company is set to spend about $20 million over the next few years on this new venture of at least 20 Boogies (as in boogie-woogies) Diners.
Besides Washington and Chicago, three more are already planned for next year in New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
"We are always looking for places to aggressively grow the business in," said Michael Sullivan, Merry-Go-Round president and chief executive officer.
"We want to be on the cutting edge of things for young people, and we think this is it."
The idea for Boogies Diner came from the original diner in Aspen opened by Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, co-founder of the Merry-Go-Round chain and still a major stockholder, who gave the company his idea for free.
A Baltimore native who served as the inspiration for the character "Boogie" in the movie "Diner," Weinglass thought the diner's success would improve the company's profit.
Industry observers say it could.
"There is a strength from selling the clothes and selling the food together, since it makes them stand out from the crowd," said George Hechtman of McMillan/Doolittle, a retail consulting firm in Richmond. "But it has to be done right to really give shoppers something special."
Construction workers and Boogies Diner staff scurried around the new Georgetown store earlier this week -- laying linoleum and hanging studded, acid-washed jackets -- to get it in shape for tomorrow's opening. The 100 employees, clad in jeans and multicolored T-shirts and mostly under 30 years old, looked like the ideal customers that store executives hope to attract -- young, trendy and free-spending. Boogies logo advises as much: "Eat Heavy, Dress Cool."
The vaulting space includes a 40-foot stainless steel animated clock tower and a 1947 Harley Davidson motorcycle pendulum on the clock, which swings above patrons.
Loud music will play continuously. Mannequins dressed in the nonedible merchandise lounge in the restaurant.
Company executives hope the dual elements will spur sales, with diner customers browsing while waiting for a table and shoppers getting hungry while they walk around the store.
The food section is on the second floor, overlooking the main selling floor.
"This is retail overlaid by a theater aspect," said Sullivan. "The diner brings in people that would not normally come in to see the retail, and the retail attracts the diners."
The 12,000-square-foot space will be split about 50-50 between the food and retail side.
Merry-Go-Round bought the building -- located just above Wisconsin Avenue and M Street NW -- for $5 million from Esprit, the designer-retailer whose business at the site was poor.
Merry-Go-Round expects the store to gross at least $4 million a year in sales, based on Chicago results, which have been similar to those at other Merry-Go-Round stores.
About 75 percent to 80 percent of revenue is expected to come from clothing sales. An average apparel sale is projected at $50, while a food sale is expected to range from $7 to $10.
The dining area, all wildly patterned black-and-white Formica and chrome, will seat 98 people and will rely on home-style diner fare, such as meatloaf, burgers and milkshakes.
Most food-retail operations in specialty stores in Washington have been limited to book stores, such as Kramerbooks & Afterwords and the Starfields of Astraea and souvenir-sweatshirt specialists such as the Hard Rock Cafe.
Although department stores and malls offer food, most operations are more of a convenience than an integral part of the retail strategy.
Company executives hope the new venture will add solidly to Merry-Go-Round's bottom line, which is already pretty solid. Earlier this week, Merry-Go-Round reported an earnings increase of 109 percent, with sales rising 38 percent, for the first nine months of its fiscal year.
One local competitor also thinks it could be a winning retail idea. "It creates an ambiance and gives a store another dimension," said Alain Chetrit, owner of Hugo Boss, a men's clothing store in Georgetown. Chetrit tried to include an espresso bar-cafe in his store, but lacked space. "My only advice to them is to keep fried foods near a fan, so the clothes don't smell."