Wendy’s Tests Updated Look at Detroit Location

January 22, 2013

Fast food chain cooks up something new

The redesigned Wendy’s that reopened Monday on Detroit’s near west side is not only a gleaming place with more workers. It’s also a key experiment as Wendy’s tests several interior and exterior looks in an effort to stay ahead of Burger King as the nation’s No. 2 fast-hamburger chain.

After a 50-day closure, the Wendy’s at Grand River and Livernois Avenue opened again sporting a more contemporary look, one of four designs that Dublin, Ohio-based Wendy’s is testing nationwide. It eventually will select one or two looks for its nearly 6,600 U.S. franchised and company-owned restaurants. Wendy’s has 162 restaurants in Metro Detroit and 286 in Michigan.

Forty-four staffers work at the Detroit outlet that used to employ 27. The new design removes the iconic exterior copper facia and replaces it in part with a straight roof line and an awning, as well as large, floor-to-ceiling greenhouse windows.

Wendy’s also has elevated one of its old tag lines, “Quality Is Our Recipe,” and given it prominence outside. Inside, the location features metallic paneling, walnut-hued floors, WiFi access, lounge seating in front of a fireplace and the first flat-panel TV for customers of any Wendy’s in Michigan.

“Everyone in the quick-serve-restaurant space is modernizing buildings and upgrading their people and trying to carve out a niche to meet the increasingly competitive landscape out there,” said John Zielinski, vice president of Wendy’s Great Lakes division, who was at Monday’s opening. “So we studied every aspect of the customer’s restaurant experience, and based on that feedback, Wendy’s totally overhauled the interior and exterior of our restaurants.”

The chain is testing the three other new looks — which it calls “traditional,” “ultramodern” and “urban” — at other Wendy’s around Michigan and the nation, Zielinski said. Wendy’s eventually will rollout nationwide the two designs that “best resonate” with customers.

“We have a vision that we want to provide our guests a restaurant experience that is truly a cut above other quick-serve restaurants, and we believe that what we call ‘image activation’ through redesign goes a long way toward making this happen.”

While prices remain important, fast-food companies are looking for another edge over competitors, a leading quick-serve expert said.

“Pricing among all the fast-food leaders seems to be somewhat competitive, and they’re all trying to boost the quality of their ingredients and make them fresher,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, a restaurant market-research and consulting firm based in Chicago.

“Experience is what consumers are looking for, especially younger consumers. They don’t want to go to old, beat-up restaurants. McDonald’s, Burger King and now Wendy’s are all doing more to attract new customers into the four walls of their restaurants. For a long time it was about drive-through efficiency, but now more consumers are looking for a place to go.”

Wendy’s is contesting with the sit-a-spell designs of Starbucks, Panera and other “fast-casual” outlets, as burger chains such as Five Guys and Smashburger — which have Metro Detroit outlets — catch on with consumers.

The quick-serve choices for Metro Detroiters are mushrooming — ranging from an expanding Penn Station submarine sandwich chain, to startups the Big Salad and Zoup!

The intensified competition explains why Wendy’s makeover includes far more elements than just store redesign, including new premium menu items such as Dave’s Hot ‘N Juicy Burger and a quartet of new entrée salads featuring ingredients such as strawberries and blueberries; a Mobile Nutrition smartphone app; a TV-advertising campaign featuring Wendy Thomas, daughter of founder Dave Thomas; and the first updated logo in nearly 30 years.

In the new logo, the cartoon rendering of “Wendy” has been updated to simplify her pig-tailed hairdo.

But new isn’t necessarily better on the logo, said Kyle Lin of 99 Designs in San Francisco. He likes the new girl figure because “she’s sort of modern and friendlier,” he said. But the “new handwritten direction” for Wendy’s name, Lin said, “looks sort of cheap to me.”

Bubba Burger Adds to Frozen Food Line

January 22, 2013

JACKSONVILLE — Months after closing most of its short-lived restaurants, Bubba Burger is going back to its roots in grocery store freezer cases in search of new avenues of growth.

Three months ago the company released a new line of products called Bubba Grillers that include a center cut pork loin chop, hot Italian sausage, mild Italian sausage and bratwurst. There is also now a Bubba steak line that includes a beef sirloin filet wrapped in applewood bacon.

In January Bubba Burger will release a line of frozen barbecue products, starting with a Carolina pulled pork that may be expanded based on the initial product’s success, said company spokesman Andy Stenson.

The company opened four restaurants last year, three of which have already closed. Stenson said because the restaurants were a very small part of the company’s overall revenue stream to begin with, it has done little to hurt the company’s revenue growth, which has been in the single digits in 2012.

“We were hoping to expand the brand that way, but we just made the decision that it wasn’t the growth that we expected,” Stenson said. “Now we’re just taking care of our core business.”

Bubba Burger, based in Jacksonville, is best known for its frozen burger products that are sold nationwide and through the U.S. Military Commissary System to bases all over the world.

The company garnered attention last year after it acquired the four former Times Grill restaurants in Jacksonville and reopened them as Original Bubba Burger Grills.

It was the company’s first foray into the restaurant business and executives said then that they expected to open the restaurants nationwide. Now, only the restaurant on Normandy Boulevard remains open. Stenson said the Normandy restaurant had always been the most consistent performing restaurant of the four. He said the company is still monitoring sales there closely and will determine whether or not to keep the restaurant open based on continued sales.

The company now has a new focus for expansion: college campuses. Stenson said the company is negotiating with several local colleges and colleges in other parts of the South and the U.S. to start serving as a vendor on campus.

Darren Tristano, an executive vice president at the research and consulting company Technomic Inc., said that while the better burger concept, which is characterized by a more gourmet burger, is growing increasingly popular in the restaurant industry, it’s not as easy as just opening a burger restaurant.

“Even if you have a good product, it doesn’t necessarily translate into a good restaurant,” Tristano said. “It can be very difficult.”

Tristano noted that it would be easier for a restaurant to add retail products, such as TGI Friday’s frozen line of appetizers or IHOP’s frozen line of breakfast items, than for a retailer to go into an entirely different business.

“But I applaud them for trying,” Tristano said of Bubba Burger. “If you have a good burger, it makes sense to give it a try.”

Stenson said the company continues to test other possible products, such as a line of Bubba barbecue sauces, and continues to expand its vendor relationships with professional sports teams and sponsorships of race cars.

“You never know where we’re going to go next,” Stenson said.