In the early 1990s Hersh Ipaktchian had an epiphany. While on vacation in Palm Springs, California, he observed a line of customers waiting to enter a TGI Friday??ª?s restaurant and immediately saw its appeal: a festive atmosphere, colorful menus and d???cor, a variety of specialty blended drinks, and mid-priced entrees.
Hersh mentioned to his wife, Lola, ??ª?This is the future of restaurants ??ª?? fun, casual and affordable. Hersh had formed numerous restaurants and concepts over his restaurant career, but none of them fit this new mold. He vowed that he would create a restaurant concept to compete for the youthful customers of TGI Fridays, Applebee??ª?s and Chili??ª?s, but recognized that it would be foolish to try to copy them.
??ª?If you??ª?re going to copy a concept, you have to be better than the original,??ª? Hersh says, ??ª?that??ª?s difficult to do. Not only does the original already have a headstart on you and has built its own customer base, the national chains have a wealth of corporate knowledge and systems. Due to their size they can often purchase at lower prices than an independent operator and they have greater muscle with suppliers. You can??ª?t be successful by simply copying what they do.??ª?
Hersh??ª?s two sons, who had participated in sports, were enthused at the idea of a sports bar. But Hersh doubted its viability. After all, Utah had a relatively low consumption of alcohol and the LDS population (about 70% of the state and about half of its urban area) would steer away from anything resembling a bar regardless of the food served. In addition, emphasizing alcohol would make it difficult for him to differentiate his operation from everyone else. After all, ??ª?A Budwiser or a rum and Coke tastes the same at any restaurant,??ª? he says. ??ª?I wanted a place that would separate its self from the rest of the pack.??ª?
Even though sports held little interest for Hersh, he knew sports were embedded deeply in American Life. A restaurant, he thought, could be successful if it catered to a sports-oriented culture while retaining its emphasis on food. Even though he was sure that a sports bar in Utah would fail, he couldn??ª?t help but wonder about a sports grill in which televised sports would be cast as entertainment and alcohol would be available but downplayed?
In a three-day period, Hersh, his sons, his architect and interior designer visited nearly a dozen restaurants, most of which looked more like sports bars than restaurants. However, one of them was filled with large and small screen televisions and was decorated with sports memorabilia. ??ª?It was a fun environment,??ª? recalls Hersh, ??ª?and it was a working model of what I had imagined.??ª?
Hersh began purchasing sports memorabilia for interior d???cor: boxing gloves worn by Muhammad Ali, signed jerseys from the Utah Jazz and NFL great Steve Young, hockey sticks used by Hall of Fame stars ??ª?? and, for fun, an antique gasoline pump and a sparking ??ª?primo??ª? Harley Davidson.
The original logo was fashioned around a cartoon character drawn by a retired Warner Brothers illustrator. Hersh had heard the name ??ª?Iggy??ª? on a Tonight Show sketch and he thought the name was humorous, so he instructed the cartoonist to sketch the character as a playful, mischievous kid ??ª?? the kind who, as a grown up, would eagerly drive to a sports grill and devour a burger, hoist a frothy beverage and watch his favorite team on the restaurant??ª?s big-screen TV.
Hersh??ª?s major emphasis was on the food. So, an experimental menu was devised which would give Iggy??ª?s Sports Grill ??ª??a little class.??ª? ??ª?I didn??ª?t want to sell lobster at Iggy??ª?s, but neither did I want it to copycat the burgers and fried foods associated with pub food and other casual chain restaurants,??ª? Hersh says. ??ª?I didn??ª?t want to base the restaurant on food from a can or pre-portioned items tossed in a microwave.??ª?
??ª?In the end we had a menu of freshly-prepared items that were widely-known to our customers,??ª? says Hersh. ??ª?It was inventive, but it wasn??ª?t strange. We had chicken balls as an appetizer, not Rocky Mountain oysters. We also had a twist. Our fish ??ª??n chips entr???e, for instance, was salmon fish ??ª??n chips, not the traditional cod or pollock served at most restaurants.??ª?
When Iggy??ª?s Sport Grill opened in October 1996, little did Hersh know that this concept would thrive and expand to become his most profitable and recognizable restaurant venture. The first Iggy??ª?s was fairly successful. A restaurant reviewer claimed, ??ª?Utahns can??ª?t get enough of this place,??ª? but Hersh felt that the restaurant was not thriving as he had envisioned. Even though it wasn??ª?t what he had visualized, Hersh was not ready to give up.
So Hersh made changes. For the second location (opened in Hersh??ª?s hometown of Layton in 2001) he and his architect designed their own building. He included three jumbo screens rather than one, so that anyone seated anywhere in the restaurant could view one of them. He ordered large circular booths ??ª?? more than half the seating ??ª?? which provided total privacy and were roomy enough for families. He decorated the restaurant with live plants instead of sports memorabilia. Appealing to customers who didn??ª?t drink alcoholic beverages, he promoted Iggy??ª?s homemade lemonade and non alcoholic tropical drinks.
??ª?Almost overnight Iggy??ª?s became a family restaurant rather than a primarily male mecca for beer-drinking sports fans. It validated Hersh??ª?s concept and the question was no longer whether Iggys??ª? could be successful; the question was where would he build the next one.
–The foregoing is adapted from Hersh Ipaktchian??ª?s biography titled, ??ª?Appetite For Success.??ª?
Iggy’s Sports Grill is located at: 802 West 1425 North – Layton, UT 84041 – (801) 525-1515