If industry scuttlebutt is to be believed, Steve Hanson's tenure at BR Guest, the restaurant group that he founded in 1987, is coming to an end. Multiple sources report that Starwood Capital Group, the private equity firm that acquired BR Guest in 2007, is pushing him out of his position as president. One source reports that Hanson already left, while another says he's cleaned out his office but will be involved with the company through the end of the year. James Gersten, the president of Culinary Concepts Hospitality Group (the partnership between chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide), is rumored to be is replacement.
Hanson launched BR Guest with the opening of Coconut Grill in 1987. It grew to include blockbusters like Dos Caminos, Ruby Foo's, and Blue Water Grill, high-end haunts like Fiamma (RIP), and newer add-ons like Bill's Bar and Burger and Strip House. He sold the company in 2007 for $150 million to Starwood Capital, the original investor behind Starwood Hotels & Resorts, retaining a 50 percent stake in the holding company Starwood created to operate the restaurants. Before the economy tanked, they planned on populating hotels across the globe with upwards of 80 Hanson concepts, but things didn't go as planned. After five years, the portfolio of restaurants grew from 16 to just 26 and by fall of 2012 rumors of a divorce began circulating. By December last year, Starwood was shopping around for a buyer, and many wondered if that buyer would be Hanson.
In the end they didn't sell, but sources say Barry Sternlicht, the chairman and CEO of Starwood Capital, was extremely disappointed in the valuation and the lack of growth of the company. Since he didn't sell, a shake-up at the top was the inevitable next step. Sources say that key employees in BR Guest have been looking for new positions in the industry for the past four weeks.
Insiders expect Starwood Capital to announce Hanson's successor as Gersten—one of the founders of La Esquina who has worked for both Alan Stillman and André Balazs—in the New Year.
Eater has reached out to reps for Steve Hanson, BR Guest, Culinary Concepts, and Starwood Capital for official comment. Check this space for updates as the story develops.