ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- Earvin "Magic" Johnson used to dominate the basketball court. Now, a team of restaurant developers is helping him own the food court, too.
Sodexho USA's Retail Brand Group, an Allentown subsidiary of the Gaithersburg-based food services giant, is working with hoops legend Johnson to develop three restaurant concepts through his Magic John Enterprises that will trade on Johnson's sports and business success.
Plans call for a sports bar, a sandwich shop and a Magic Johnson Marketplace food court, brand group officials said this week. The sports bar and the food court are new concepts, while the sub shop would be based on the group's previously developed Subconnection sandwich-shop model.
"The idea is not only to leverage Magic Johnson as an athlete, but also as a successful businessman who continues to do a lot for the communities he goes into," said Husein Kitabwalla, the group's vice president of operations and brand development.
The Retail Brand Group has also developed ideas for merchandise to sell at the stores, such as autographed basketballs, officials said.
It's not known which concept will reach market first, but the first Johnson-themed eatery could open this fall, brand group spokeswoman Stacy Bowman-Hade said. Johnson was enthusiastic about all three ideas last week when he met with members of the brand group in Gaithersburg, officials said.
"He was very engaged and very animated," Kitabwalla said. "We're getting validation that we're moving in the right direction."
The Retail Brand Group cooks up restaurant concepts for Sodexho, which then brings the eateries to its institutional clients. Jazzman's Cafe, a Starbucks-style coffee bistro, for instance, has opened on many college campuses served by Sodexho. This is the first time the group has worked with a celebrity, Kitabwalla said.
In recent years, the Retail Brand Group has begun franchising some of its concepts, bringing them out of campuses and hospitals and onto main streets. Kitabwalla said he sees the sports bar as a franchise opportunity, while the other two ideas would mainly serve institutional clients.
Kurt Blumenau writes for The Morning Call in Allentown.