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BBQ chain looking to expand in SW Ohio/Smokey Bones CEO has helped overhaul brand

The Smokey Bones restaurant chain is looking to expand in southwest Ohio and elsewhere in the country, its chief executive said during a visit to Dayton.

Chris Artinian — who worked his way up the ranks to become CEO of Morton’s the Steakhouse chain before taking the helm at Smokey Bones 10 months ago — said the Dayton and Cincinnati market has been a strong performer for the Orlando-based restaurant chain.

Smokey Bones operates 66 locations in 17 states and is looking to grow — and it will be looking to do just that in the Dayton and Cincinnati areas, Artinian said. The restaurant chain operates a restaurant on Miller Lane in northern Montgomery County, and its West Chester restaurant is one of several Cincinnati-area locations. But it has no locations in southern Montgomery County or Warren County, although it did open a restaurant in early 2005 at Miamisburg-Centerville Road at Lyons Road in Washington Twp. that closed within three years..

“We’ll be looking here,” Artinian said during a visit to the Miller Lane restaurant late Friday. “You could put two more restaurants between here and the south, and we’re well-positioned to do that. Our finances are in good shape.”

Smokey Bones is an affiliate of Boca Raton-based Sun Capital Partners, which also owns Bar Louie, Boston Market, Fazoili’s and Friendly’s. All of Smokey Bones’ restaurants are corporate-owned. The chain employs 2,300 nationwide, and its new restaurants typically employ 60 to 70, Artinian said.

Since Artinian’s arrival in June 2012, Smokey Bones has expanded its menu beyond barbecue to include burgers, fish and chips and other items. The restaurant chain’s music, decor and lighting also have changed, and its late-night food and beverage options have increased.

All of the changes are part of Smokey Bones’ efforts to elevate the brand and differentiate itself from competitors in the rather crowded barbecue segment of the casual dining industry. And Artinian said Smokey Bones is ready to compete.

“If we were to find a good location right next to another barbecue restaurant, we would not hesitate to build there,” Artinian said. “We’ll stand out no matter who’s next to us.”

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