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Sam Nazarian's SBE teams up with Umami Burger's Adam Fleischman

July 2, 2011 |  8:02 am

UmamiBurger Sam Nazarian, chief executive of SBE hospitality group, has placed a major bet on the future viability of Adam Fleischman and his Umami Burger chain.

The nightlife and hospitality kingpin said Friday that his investment makes him a 50-50 partner in all of Fleischman's future restaurant endeavors, including Umami Burger; a modern downtown deli called Umamicatessan; and a new place called U-Ko that Fleischman describes as a "progressive fast-food place, with compostable containers" and a DIY ordering system on an iPad that lets you swipe your own credit or debit card.

Fleischman has secured a high-profile 3,000-square-foot space for that project, the location of which will be announced next week.

"We made a sizable commitment to his company," Nazarian said. "As fast as he wants to execute expansion plans, we'll be there, not just with equity but with back-of-the-house support."

Nazarian has been on a spending spree of late, having recently purchased David Judaken's Syndicate Hospitality and nearly doubling the amount of clubs he owns in L.A. to make himself the most powerful operator of clubs on the West Coast.

Like Umami Burger, SBE is a home-grown brand, although it's unusual for Nazarian to invest in someone else's restaurant company when he has his own. He said that he chose to do so because Fleischman had "captured lightning in a bottle" with his restaurant concepts and that he wanted to extend his significant resources to help Fleischman expand more easily.

Fleischman says SBE was attractive to him because "they have a really good hospitality platform that I'm going to leverage.... Their systems, their people, their training -- it's incredible. They're going to put all that infrastructure at our disposal."

The idea, both men say, is to roll out 12 new Umami Burger locations a year for the next three years in places SBE is also planning to expand into, including New York, Miami, Las Vegas and Houston. This coming year, however, Umami will concentrate on opening in Northern California (San Francisco will be first) as well as Orange and San Diego counties.

Nazarian will keep a close eye on the developments, but Fleischman will be running the show, and Nazarian is counting on his creativity to move his brands forward.

"We're still an independent company, but Sam and his brother are on the board of directors," Fleischman says, adding that the setup suits him fine. "I'm not a money guy. I enjoy putting out good food and having people enjoy it."

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-- Jessica Gelt

Photo: The Manly Burger at Umami Burger. Credit: Ringo H.W. Chiu / For The Times

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