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06/13/2002 – [Puget Sound Business Journal] Cucina! Cucina! sold to Wolfgang Puck

Publication: Puget Sound Business Journal

SEATTLE (June 13, 2002) – The sprightly Italian restaurant chain Cucina! Cucina! and its fast-casual sister chain Cucina! Presto! have been sold to Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Wolfgang Puck Worldwide Inc. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Wolfgang Puck plans to continue to operate the 15 Cucinas and seven Presto restaurants under their same names as a separate division, and will turn the company's Bellevue headquarters into the service center for that division, a company release said. No restaurant closures or layoffs are planned.

At its height, Cucina! Cucina! Inc. had 19 Cucina restaurants and 16 Prestos. But an expansion into Denver and Phoenix in late 1996 -- for which the company raised $24 million from private investors and venture capital firms -- proved ill-fated, and the new units were eventually closed.

The company has been fairly quiet since then, but did continue opening restaurants occasionally. The most recent press release posted on Cucina's Web site notes the 2000 openings of two Cucina units in California's Buena Park and North Orange County neighborhoods.

In a story Thursday morning, the Los Angeles Times reported that Cucina sales totaled $39 million last year. Calls to Cucina were not returned.

Cucina was spun off from Schwartz Brothers Restaurants in 1994 by founders Bill and John Schwartz. Schwartz Brothers continues to operate its fine-dining restaurants, which include Daniel's Broiler, Chandler's Crabhouse and Spazzo Mediterranean Grill.

The 22-unit Cucina chain adds substantially to Wolfgang Puck's holdings. Aside from the celebrity chef's fine-dining restaurants, the company operates 16 Wolfgang Puck Cafes, including one in downtown Seattle, and 19 Wolfgang Puck Express units. The Puck Cafes operate in five states, including Washington, while Puck Express is currently being aggressively franchised.

Wolfgang Puck's foray into Seattle fine dining, the pan-Asian eatery Obachine, wasn't well received and closed in 1999 after just two years in operation. Wolfgang Puck is a privately held company.

About Wolfgang Puck Worldwide Inc.
Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, Inc. (WPW), a privately held corporation, includes a rapidly growing international franchise of the fast-casual Wolfgang Puck Gourmet Express restaurants, consumer products, book publishing, television, radio and internet programming, and other licensing and merchandising projects. Wolfgang Puck-branded consumer products include a signature cookware collection, Wolfgang Puck All-Natural pizza, All-Natural and Organic Wolfgang Puck Soups, Stocks and Broths, Wolfgang Puck All-Natural Cooking and Baking Sprays and Wolfgang Puck's Coffee. Wolfgang authored six popular cookbooks, and his weekly syndicated newspaper column, "Wolfgang Puck's Kitchen," appears in more than 30 newspapers throughout the United States and Canada, with a combined circulation of more than 5.3 million. Since 1986, Wolfgang has been a regular featured guest on ABC's "Good Morning America," and his Emmy-winning television series, "Wolfgang Puck," debuted on the Food Network in 2000 and aired for five seasons.

About Cucina! Cucina!
Cucina! Cucina!, Inc. is principally engaged in the operation and development of the Cucina! Cucina! Italian Cafe and Cucina! Presto! ("Presto") restaurant concepts. The Cucina full-serve restaurants feature contemporary and traditional Italian cuisine served in a casual, colorful and energetic atmosphere at moderate prices. The Presto quick-serve restaurants offer a more limited menu of similar cuisine served within five minutes in a bright and lively environment. Bill and John Schwartz successfully opened their first Cucina! Cucina! Italian Cafe in 1988 and later founded CCI in 1992. The Company is headquartered in Bellevue, Washington, and currently operates a total of 21 restaurants that include 14 Cucina locations and 7 Presto locations. Sixteen restaurants are located in Washington, two in Oregon and three in California. In addition, the Knott's Berry Farm theme park operates a Cucina franchise at the adjacent newly remodeled Radisson Resort Hotel located in Buena Park, California.

Copyright 2002 American City Business Journals Inc. –Puget Sound Business Journal (Seattle) - June 13, 2002