In a food fight for its life, the Hollywood-themed restaurant is courting stars to spice up its celebrity menu.

By Josh Young
Updated July 17, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT
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To be the president of Planet Hollywood is to be constantly reminded that you are not a celebrity—even by people who work for you.

Over the din of an eardrum-shattering Armageddon trailer, Brian Woods, 38, a former Blockbuster exec who became the eatery’s president in January 1997, is making an unscheduled pit stop at the restaurant’s Manhattan flagship. First, though, he has to get past the frazzled Dawson’s Creek wannabe at the hostess station.

”Who are you again?” asks the hostess, picking up the phone to check out Woods with the upstairs office.

”The president of Planet Hollywood,” Woods replies.

”He says he’s the president of Planet Hollywood,” she shouts into the receiver, struggling to be heard over the twentysomethings here for MTV’s Road Rules tryouts.

”I really am the president,” he protests, but to no avail. Directed to stand near the Billy Baldwin Backdraft display, Woods is out of earshot when the puzzled hostess turns to a colleague and whispers, ”I thought Arnold Schwarzenegger was the president of Planet Hollywood.” Hasta la ouch.

He may not be able to get a table at his own restaurant, but Woods, like co-owner Bruce Willis’ character in Armageddon, has been asked to save the Planet.

After an aggressive seven-year expansion campaign that’s produced more than 80 restaurants worldwide—including eateries in such unlikely locales as Bangkok and Dubai—Planet Hollywood is reeling. The company took a $44 million write-off last year, and its stock has plummeted from a high of $28 a share (shortly after it went public in 1996) to a low of $7 a share in January 1998. As of last week, the stock hadn’t moved much beyond that figure. Paul Marsh, a theme-restaurant analyst at S.G. Cowen, believes ”the stock itself is fairly washed out.” In other words, if you buy this stock, don’t expect to live like a movie star.

Blame the chain’s financial woes on (1) rapid expansion—”We became a store-opening machine and forgot the places we had opened,” admits Woods—and (2) the explosive growth of the ”eatertainment” industry. Now everyone from models (Fashion Cafe) to bikers (Harley-Davidson Cafe) has a stake in the biz. ”[Our] surveys have…a little sting to them,” says PH cofounder Robert Earl, 46. ”They say, ‘Thank you for turning us on to the industry, now we want to go try the others.”’

But analysts insist the chain’s fading stars—including major partners Arnold, Bruce, Sylvester Stallone, Whoopi Goldberg, and Demi Moore—are the reason Planet is losing its luster. Its repeat business ”has to stop going down,” says Marsh. To do that, ”they have to get younger stars to attract customers for a second visit. Arnold, Bruce, and Sly are kind of tired. They need a Leo.” As in DiCaprio, in case you’ve been living on another, uh, planet.

Cue Brian Woods. Hired by Earl and his PH cofounder, Keith Barish, 53, an ex-movie producer, Woods must put Planet back into Hollywood’s orbit. This year, he moved his offices from Orlando to L.A. to forge a cozier bond with the studios. The relocation has already paid off—PH has hosted back-scratching promo junkets, picking up the tab for stars of hard-sell films like Major League: Back to the Minors to visit remote outposts like the one in Indianapolis.

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