From Hard Rock to Harleys, Themes Are Recipe for Success

From Associated Press

Whatever your fancy may be--from Harley-Davidson motorcycles to Motown music to movie stars--there's a theme restaurant catering to your likes.

What started in 1971 with the opening of the Hard Rock Cafe in London has blossomed into a multimillion-dollar industry, with hundreds of theme restaurants operating around the world.

Thousands crowd into these joints, dining on salads, sandwiches and other pub fare while keeping an eye open for celebrities. Few are likely to spot Sly Stallone at Planet Hollywood or Diana Ross at the Motown Cafe, but the illusion of that near-celebrity experience keeps them coming back for more.

And before many leave, they dig into the merchandise that's sold near the door. Sales of hats, jackets, pins and T-shirts help boost the restaurants' revenue and, more importantly, serve as easy advertising.

"Theme restaurants are fun, entertaining and an affordable way to be entertained for the cost of a burger," said Wendy Webster, spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Assn. in Washington. "People aren't just looking for food anymore, but to make eating out the night's activity."

Eating out is the No. 1 form of evening entertainment outside the home, Webster said, with 34% of adults saying they'd been to a restaurant recently, compared to 14% who had gone to the movies.

Hard Rock remains the largest theme restaurant in the world, with 36 locations. Planet Hollywood runs close behind with 28 sites.

Several new ventures are expected to open next year.

The National Assn. for Stock Car Auto Racing, or NASCAR, plans to open a chain of racing car-themed cafes, and the All Star Cafe, a sports-oriented spot, is scheduled to open in New York next year. The Fashion Cafe, Motown Cafe and Harley-Davidson Cafe, all of which started in New York, are considering moves beyond the Hudson River.

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