Gaspergoo team sets tables for 4 (year-olds)

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It's not quite Zoup yet.

Zoup-ah, a Napa, Calif.-based group of entrepreneurs that has been developing a children's cooking brand, has moved a big step forward, signing with Lark Creek Restaurant Group to launch a chain of children's restaurants based on its planned "Gaspergoo" TV show. While the program has yet to be produced and bought by a network, the "Gaspergoo" restaurant concept is scheduled to make its debut next year in Los Angeles.

Food at the eatery will follow the tradition of Lark Creek partner and chef Bradley Ogden, who is a proponent of the "farm fresh" movement. At the restaurant, children will be treated as the primary guest. Waiters will be trained to kneel to speak with children at their eye level and parents will be given the equivalent of the limited "children's menu" offered at most restaurants. Other ideas kicking around include allowing children to shape dough for their own bread and to help out in a working vegetable garden. Also in the offing: serving desserts in a batter bowl, complete with spoon for licking. Dinners will average $20 per person, said Michael D. Dellar, co-founder, Lark Creek Restaurant Group.

"The restaurant can live on its own," said Jeanne Smith, co-founder and chief creative officer, Zoup-ah. "You don't have to watch TV to appreciate the experience in the restaurant."

Since Advertising Age began following Zoup-ah's progress in September 2004, the company has evolved its concept from a single TV show, "Gaspergoo," to set its sights on spreading the concept across a number of properties targeting children of varied age groups. The centerpiece is still the character Gaspergoo, a madcap chef, and his brother Gusto, that the company hopes to feature in a live-action and animated series targeted at 4-to-7-year-olds. Zoup-ah executives remain in discussion with several TV networks they declined to identify.

Zoup-ah has also purchased rights to Max on Snacks, a cartoon character featured in short program segments of 90 seconds to two minutes. In each, Max starts by jumping rope or otherwise exercising. Using simple graphics to list ingredients much like a recipe, Max then creates a simple snack dish using fresh fruit, cheese or other foods.

Scott Dyer, exec VP-product and development at Corus Entertaiment's Nelvana, a producer and distributor of children's programming products, said he expects Max on Snacks to find a home on TV later this year as an interstitial program between regular features. Nelvana, whose other properties include Babar, has committed $10 million to produce the "Gaspergoo" series and is helping develop licensed products.

Yet another product in the early stages of development is an exhibition cooking show targeting 8-to-12-year-olds called "Feed Your Family." In it, families would share their favorite recipes. "We could land at the Food Channel, or a public channel, or potentially at one company with multiple networks under its umbrella," said Erik Stangvik, co-founder and CEO, Zoup-ah.

Still waiting

But the conclusion of a TV deal has taken longer than a pot of water to boil. Currently, the company is projecting that "Gaspergoo" won't air until mid-2007 at the earliest. Zoup-ah initially expected its show to be on the air as early as fall 2005.

Still, executives creating Gaspergoo and his empire are confident that timing won't be an issue. "It is possible Disney or Nickelodeon could usurp us [by coming out with a show sooner], but it's not likely," said Mr. Dyer.

John O'Meara, executive director, Landor, San Francisco, called the concept of teaching kids to eat well "really fertile territory," one that's already high on the agenda of everyone from "Martha Stewart to the U.S. government." He wasn't concerned about time running out for securing a TV slot. "Obesity is still going to be happening in 2007."

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