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February 20, 2023 / 2023 Power 50

2023 Power 50: 40. Gjinovefa “Gina” Luari

PHOTOS | STEVE LASCHEVER Gina Luari is the CEO and founder of The Statement Group restaurant company.

Gjinovefa “Gina” Luari, founder of the hip, breakfast-all-day The Place 2 Be restaurants, tells her staff there are two essential things one can’t recover — time and opportunity.

And the 31-year-old restaurateur is wasting neither.

Luari launched her first Place 2 Be restaurant at age 24, in Hartford’s south end. The ambitious and energetic entrepreneur has expanded through the pandemic, and now has five locations: two in Hartford, one in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square, one near Yale in New Haven and another at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield.

Luari has weathered the same supply chain delays, inflation and tight labor market that battered the broader restaurant industry, as well as a fire that put her downtown Hartford location out of commission for months. 

But she managed to build a business with a fun, playful and inclusive vibe, and harness its cool factor through a savvy devotion to social media marketing.

That’s allowed The Place 2 Be to grow its gross revenues from about $3 million in 2018 to a projected $20 million in 2023.

In early 2022, Luari announced the formation of The Statement Group, a corporate banner for her TP2B restaurants and other concepts to follow. In 2023, Luari will begin an effort to tap into private equity to fuel her dreams of 50 to 100 restaurants nationally.

Luari expects to open RAW, a raw seafood bar at 280 Trumbull St. in Hartford in March. She expects to open a new bakery – The Bakery by TP2B – in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square by early April.

Luari plans to open a Dallas location in May and has signed a letter of intent to occupy a space for another restaurant in Houston. She is also working to secure a Storrs location for yet another The Place 2 Be.

Luari hopes to launch two more restaurants in Hartford in 2023, under new concepts. Timing depends on the pace of the property owners’ efforts to renovate their buildings.

Her success having generated a lot of attention on social and traditional media, Luari has found herself the victim of imitation. Other restaurants are mimicking her aesthetic and even some of her standard fixtures — like clawfoot tubs filled with plastic ball-pit balls. 

She said she aims to expand her brand into new markets quickly — including Boston’s Seaport District, Miami, Atlanta and elsewhere — before others offer a shallow imitation.

“I definitely want to be a big brand,” Luari said. “I see the risk in growing too slow. I need to hurry up and get into those areas.” 

Find out who else is in the 2023 Power 50.

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