After two decades operating quietly in Midwest and East Coast neighborhoods, J. Gilbert's Wood-Fired Steaks & Seafood, one of five full-service brands owned and operated by Houlihan's Restaurants Inc., is now available for franchising. The company operates five corporate J. Gilbert's locations, one each in Connecticut, Virginia, Kansas, Ohio and Missouri.

In announcing the move to franchise, company executives cite what they see as a golden opportunity to compete in the fine-dining category by carving a niche as an upscale experience with down-to-earth Midwestern value and hospitality. "J. Gilbert's provides something that's currently missing in the full-service restaurant category: high-quality cuisine in a welcoming, non-intimidating atmosphere," said Rob Ellis, CFO and chief development officer for Houlihan's Restaurants Inc.

Measuring 7,000 square feet and offering seating for approximately 210 guests, the J. Gilbert's prototype aims for an environment that is "open and accessible, while remaining cozy and chic." Design highlights include linear 8-foot fireplaces, custom light fixtures and metal wine cases, reclaimed wood, rustic stone accents, sleek glass tile and modern, custom artwork. Real estate options range from traditional pads and highly visible endcap spaces in retail and lifestyle centers, to entertainment districts and mixed-use developments. Vacant restaurants can be retrofitted with exterior signage and storefront or tower elements and cost-effectively converted to J. Gilbert's, according to the company.

Houlihan's expects to grow the J. Gilbert's brand at a rate of two to three new locations across the country each year. Ideal franchise candidates are successful full-service, multi-unit operators with expertise in one or more large markets.