Alice’s restaurant: Rocker Cooper takes swing with baseball eatery

Alice’s restaurant: Rocker Cooper takes swing with baseball eatery

Ron Ruggless

Call it a major league, rock-‘n’-jock restaurant concept born on the fields of Little League.

But whatever you call it, the 4-month-old Alice Cooper’stown restaurant and bar in Phoenix has homerun aspirations.

And, yes, that’s rocker Alice Cooper.

Cooper’stown managing partner Brian Weymouth approached Cooper when the two men were coaching their children’s Little League teams in Phoenix, which Cooper now calls home. About $3.3 million later they have a restaurant that seems to be batting a thousand.

The management group is setting its sights on expanding the concept to Cleveland and, perhaps, Denver and Detroit, which is Cooper’s other hometown.

Weymouth, a restaurant consultant who worked on Paul Fleming’s Z-Tejas restaurants, said Cooper’s agent had been urging the rock star to get involved with restaurants just before Weymouth and he met on the Little League fields. Cooper’stown, near the two new sports stadiums in downtown Phoenix, was seen as the perfect name, playing off the home city of the Baseball Hall of Fame in New York.

The restaurant opened Dec. 20, and now, with the National League’s new Phoenix Diamondbacks’ baseball season starting in April, business is taking off, Weymouth says. Cooper’stown is three blocks from the baseball stadium, Bank One Ballpark, which opened last year. “And we’re right across the street from America West Arena,” Weymouth adds, “so we’re kind of double-dipping here.”

With 260 seats inside and a 7,000-square-foot patio with a major league scoreboard and video cubes, the restaurant has done about $1.2 million in first-quarter sales, Weymouth says.

Best-selling menu items include barbecue and “campfire steak” served on a cedar plank, a dish created by Emeril Lagasse, whose agent is Shep Gordon, a culinary and music specialist who also represents Cooper and is a partner in the restaurant venture.

Besides Cooper, Gordon and Weymouth, other partners in Cooper’stown are Dave Mustain of the rock ‘n’ roll group MegaDeath; Danny Zelisko, an investor; Dale Jensen, a Phoenix-area businessman; and Randy Johnson, who pitches for the Diamondbacks baseball team.

Johnson’s involvement has added not only to the panache of the investment team but also to the in-restaurant ambience, if one can call it that. His nickname is “The Big Unit,” and Cooper’stown’s menu capitalizes on that with a 2-foot-long hot dog dubbed “The Big Unit.”

“When someone orders that hot dog, which happens a lot more now with baseball season in full swing, sirens go off and the staff comes out,” Weymouth explains. “They yell, ‘Big Unit comm.’ The waiters and waitresses go by and say, ‘Nice unit.’ That’s our fun gimmick item.”

As with many theme concepts, merchandising plays a big role at Cooper’stown. Weymouth says its merchandise sales are generating 8 percent to 10 percent of total volume so far.

In addition to the rock-‘n’-jock memorabilia that decorate the restaurant, Weymouth has tapped corporate sponsorships as another revenue stream, borrowing a page from the professional sports teams’ play book. So far, Cooper’stown has six corporate sponsors, who pay between $500 and $60,000 for a five-year sponsorship deal. Sponsors get such benefits as special signage and promotions. Among the sponsors are Fender Guitar and Cox Communications. Another, Wells Fargo Bank, has an automatic teller machine in Cooper’stown as well.

While some companies in the theme-restaurant segment of the foodservice business have found the going tough in the past few years, Weymouth says he’s confident that his rock-‘n’-jock concept – kind of an all-star sports cafe meets the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – appeals to a wide-enough audience to be a success. And if the investment team continues to find locations near arenas and sports stadiums, Cooper’stown may knock some balls out of the park.

As the metaphors keep rounding the bases, Weymouth avers, “This dog hunts.”

COPYRIGHT 1999 Lebhar-Friedman, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group