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Ruby Tuesday and Lime Fresh Mexican Grill

Ruby Tuesday to open up to 200 Mexican eateries

Ruby Tuesday has inked a deal that will allow it to open and operate up to 200 fast-casual Mexican restaurants.

The Maryville-based restaurant operator signed a licensing agreement last week with LFMG International LLC for the development rights to South Florida-based Lime Fresh Mexican Grill.

The move into fast casual gives Ruby Tuesday, a casual dining chain with more than 850 company and franchise-owned locations, entry into a segment that has been the fastest growing in the restaurant industry.

“It’s a segment that has sustained growth over the last several years, even during recent economic times. There’s more demand than supply. This brand has a lot of opportunity within the category,” Ruby Tuesday spokesman Rick Johnson said.

Lime Fresh Mexican Grill has been open since 2004 and has grown to six South Florida locations with another three in development. Ruby Tuesday expects to open about a dozen over the next several months with the goal of up to 200 over the next several years in the Eastern half of the United States with the exception of Florida.

The Mexican restaurant chain features a homemade salsa bar and more than 50 variations of hot sauces. The food is prepared in-house daily using ingredients sourced locally when possible, while the meat it serves has been certified humane by Humane Farm Animal Care, a certification and labeling nonprofit organization.

“They’ve been very popular and have done very well,” Johnson said. “It’s a good fit for us. Like Ruby Tuesday, the brand is focused on using fresh, high quality ingredients and has high standards for food and service.”

Entry into the fast-casual segment represents the most recent component of an overall growth strategy that includes increasing sales and traffic at existing Ruby Tuesday locations and converting some underperforming stores to other brands.

Lime Fresh Mexican Grill marks Ruby Tuesday’s fourth dining concept outside of its core brand.

Ruby Tuesday acquired Wok Hay, an Asian bistro concept, in 2007. Earlier this year, it entered into licensing agreements with Alabama-based Jim ‘N Nicks Bar-B-Q and South Carolina-based Truffles Cafe, which is owned by Ruby Tuesday CEO Sandy Beall’s brother, Price Beall.

Ruby Tuesday said in July it planned to convert about a half-dozen of its underperforming stores to those dining concepts.

Ruby Tuesday opens its first Jim ‘N Nicks in Knoxville today and plans to open its first Truffles in November in Buckhead, Ga.

“None of these other brands take away from our focus on the core brand, but the reality of the restaurant industry is the sustainable growth has been in fast casual,” Johnson said. “This is an opportunity to have entry into this category.”