Dining Between Dayparts: The Evolution of Snacking

May 29, 2014

Snack consumption has been increasing in the U.S., leading to new definitions of snacks and new opportunities for foodservice operators.

Snack consumption is high and has been increasing. Just over half of U.S. consumers say they snack at least twice a day, up slightly from 48% in 2012. And, according to Technomic’s 2014 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, about one in five consumers say they snack at least three times daily. Over the past two years, consumers have broadened their definition of “snack” to include more foodservice items. Therefore, it is vital for to stay on top of snack trends.

What Makes a Snack?

Firstly, what differentiates a “snack” from other types of food? According to consumers, a snack is defined primarily by the type of food or beverage and by time of day it is eaten. Portion size also plays a large role, as more than two-fifths of consumers polled report that they define a snack by the size of the item. The ideal snack size differs by occasion, because some consumers snack as a meal replacement while others may snack on something small to hold them over between meals.

Fewer consumers polled today than in 2012 (58%) define a snack by the time of day it is eaten. This aligns with the general trend of consumers eating at more frequent intervals throughout the day rather than eating three meals per day.

Base: 1,500 consumers aged 18+ Source: 2014 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, Technomic, Inc.

Base: 1,500 consumers aged 18+
Source: 2014 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, Technomic, Inc.

The majority of consumers report that their definition of a snack has not changed in the past two years, but about one-third say their definition has changed. A quarter of consumers say they now include more types of food in their “snack” mindset. About a tenth of consumers say their definition of “snack” has changed to include other parameters such as more types of beverages, more foodservice items and more overlap with meals.

Slightly more men than women say their definition of “snack” hasn’t changed, while more women than men now include more types of food within the scope of what they consider to be a snack.


Base: 1,500 consumers aged 18+ Source: 2014 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, Technomic, Inc.

Because a substantial proportion of consumers have broadened their idea of what constitutes a snack, and fewer consumers today than in 2012 consider time of day as a factor in the definition of “snack,” customers may be open to restaurants’ suggestions to add a certain food to their “snack” mindset, even food that is not traditionally served as a snack or food that is typically eaten at another time of day. For instance, operators could list sides, appetizers or small plates on a special “snack” menu, rather than just listing them on the main menu.

Snacking Frequency

Based on their own personal perception of what a snack is, consumers were asked how often they snack. Overall, consumers snack about as often today as they did two years ago, with just a slight increase in snacking frequency. Half of today’s consumers (51%) report consuming multiple snacks on a typical day, and 21% do so at least three times per day. In comparison, just 48% of consumers polled in 2012 say they snack at least twice a day.

Base: 1,522 (2012) and 1,750 (2014) consumers aged 18+; includes terminate data Source: 2014 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, Technomic, Inc.

Base: 1,522 (2012) and 1,750 (2014) consumers aged 18+; includes terminate data
Source: 2014 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report, Technomic, Inc.

Limited-Service Opportunities

Increased snacking is strongly driven by younger consumers, so operators and manufacturers may want to focus on these consumers when developing and marketing snacks. Online and social-media marketing efforts, for instance, may pay off far better than traditional television advertising. In particular, younger consumers will respond to marketing that conveys the importance of snacks as part of social occasions with their friends. And images of younger consumers snacking at work or en route to a destination may convey the convenience of snacking and its role as an intrinsic part of today’s busy lifestyle.

Many restaurant operators are recognizing that snacks can be a traffic driver, appealing on a number of levels—from low price to craveability to on-the-go lifestyle integration.

Value menus are reflecting trends toward a proliferation of snacks and catering to off-peak dining occasions. The new Snack ’n Save Menu at Arby’s exemplifies this trend. Currently being tested in 13 markets, the Snack ’n Save Menu is designed to boost customer traffic and fuel multi-item purchases at each visit. Each of the 15 items on the menu is well suited for takeout and is sized for snacking. Ranging in prices from $1 to $2.99, the menu selection hits the main points relating to how consumers would define a snack. Some highlights are as follows:

  • Junior-size roast-beef sandwich
  • A two-sandwich pack of roast-turkey or roast-beef Mighty Minis
  • Mozzarella sticks
  • Jalapeño bites
Source: Arbys.com

Source: Arbys.com

Look for a value message to be increasingly delivered with snacks as the cornerstone of the menu lineup. This approach will likely lead to more value-oriented menus being dubbed simply as “snack” menus—with consumers picking up on the cue that snacks provide the overall value they seek.

Chains are also developing innovative portable packaging for their snack items. McDonald’s lists Chicken McBites, featuring bite-sized breaded and fried chicken breast pieces available in three sizes—including Snack, Regular and Shareable size varieties. The “deliciously poppable” McBites are served with the customer’s choice of Honey Mustard, Hot Mustard, Barbecue, Chipotle BBQ, Sweet n’ Sour, Buffalo, Ranch or Sweet Chili dipping sauce. The sauce can be inserted into a space in the lid when the lid is opened, which allows for easy on-the-go consumption.

The popularity of Chicken McBites has led to the introduction of Fish McBites, which are positioned in the same way. These items also reflect a burgeoning trend that centers on snacks as the core of the value menu.

Sources: Facebook.com; Chron.com

Sources: Facebook.com; Chron.com

This fall, KFC rolled out the limited-time KFC Go Cups in five varieties for $2.49 each. The selection includes a Chicken Little sandwich, four Original Recipe Bites, three Hot Wings, one piece of Original Recipe Boneless or two Extra Crispy Tenders, along with crispy seasoned potato wedges. The patented KFC Go Cup container was designed specifically to fit in a vehicle cup holder and is marketed as an on-the-go snack.

Key Takeaways

Understanding how snacking fits in with consumers’ typical dining behavior has implications for menu and product development. For instance, since younger consumers typically snack in addition to eating three meals per day, they may prefer a small portion or light snack. On the other hand, older consumers who are more likely than younger consumers to replace meals with snacks may be in need of a more substantial snack. Operators and suppliers should consider how snacking fits into the lives of their customer base when developing and marketing items to sell as snacks.

Clearly there is still ample room for restaurants to boost snack sales. However, restaurant operators should examine the feasibility of expanding into the snack category, keeping their customer base, and concept and menu positioning in mind.

Franchise Chatter Names Emerging New Food Segment The Hottest Franchise Concept of 2014

May 22, 2014

By Brian Bixler
Franchise Chatter

During the last few years, a band of start-ups has been racing to become what some have called “the Chipotle of pizza,” seizing upon the fast-casual custom concept and mimicking the company’s model in hopes that they can do for pizza what Chipotle did for the burrito. With major names in franchising recognizing the potential in the fast-casual custom pizza segment and backing some of the brands financially, potential franchisees are seeing dollar signs in what has evolved into the hottest franchise concept of 2014—one that looks to have staying power, rather than being a passing fad.

That’s the conclusion drawn in a report from Franchise Chatter, an online information resource for franchisees. Published on franchisechatter.com, the new report looks at the latest developments and growth within the fast-casual custom pizza segment, which has been drawing increasing interest among investors as new brands look toward explosive expansion, spreading the concept across the country.

“There are now dozens of brands in this segment, which could become as popular as frozen yogurt franchises were a few years ago,” said Ambrosio Cantada, founder of Franchise Chatter. “As these companies gain market share, we know potential franchisees will want to read about the future of this segment of the pizza category, and which brands may end up on top. “

Since 2008, a growing number of companies has moved into the custom pizza segment by establishing fast-casual restaurants in which customers choose their ingredients—including the dough, sauce and toppings—along a service line. With pizzas being cooked in high-temperature ovens, the concept combines speed and customization that customers are looking for today, with a variety of healthy ingredients.

So many new brands are entering the market with none of them dominating yet that potential franchisees face the dilemma of striking while the iron’s hot (or, in this case, the oven) or sitting on the sidelines to see which brand will best capture market share.

Some brands are posting impressive annual sales volumes as high as $1.8 million at individual units, according to Technomic Executive Vice President Darren Tristano, who recently completed the Fast-Casual Pizza Cluster Report for the market research firm.

Even though Technomic’s year-end 2013 figures show Pie Five Pizza Co., Uncle Maddio’s and Your Pie leading some competitors in the number of units, each with 18, the landscape is about to change.

“I think right now the two brands that are at the forefront would be PizzaRev because of the investment of Buffalo Wild Wings and Blaze Pizza, which is expanding rapidly,” Tristano says. “They both have strong management and overall knowledge of the consumer market.”

The speed with which the dueling companies bring their concepts to additional markets will be key to determining their success, he added. Tristano expects the custom pizza segment to be especially popular with the noon crowd.

“Fast-casual pizza has emerged out of a white space that’s typically lunch time,” he said, adding that brands that offer comfortable environments and alcoholic beverages will also be able to pick up dinner and nighttime customers as well.

“We expect to see a lot of opportunity for growth in the next five to eight years,” Tristano said. “It will likely attract more franchisees and other investors to come into the market as it’s still in the very early stage.”

The Franchise Chatter report includes updates on specific brands it has identified for having the greatest growth potential over the next five years.

For more information, click on the Hottest Franchise Concept of 2014 banner at franchisechatter.com.

Brian Bixler is a freelance journalist and blogger who writes for several business-oriented websites, including Franchise Chatter, a membership site devoted to reviewing franchise earnings claims. By talking to executives of leading brands as well as some of the most successful franchisees across the country, Franchise Chatter reports on growing brands as well as those that might be struggling. The website also examines the profit potential of all the major brands with its FDD Talk feature.

Subway Owners Take Stake in BurgerFuel

May 14, 2014

subwaylogopromoThe “better burger” niche is already crowded with domestic startups, but a new player from New Zealand, BurgerFuel, soon might break into the competition and onto the fast track to growth, helped by a partnership with Subway founders Fred DeLuca and Peter Buck.

According the The New York Times, DeLuca and Buck acquired a 10-percent stake in BurgerFuel in January through their investment company, Franchise Brands, which supports small and midsize concepts. BurgerFuel reportedly hopes to leverage this strategic alliance into expansion throughout the United States by selling franchises to operators of Subway, which is 100-percent franchised and has more than 25,500 restaurants in the United States.

Officials from Milford, Conn.-based Subway did not respond to inquiries for comment as of press time.

Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based research firm Technomic Inc., noted that Subway’s growth in extremely nontraditional spaces — such as a church, a Goodwill training center and auto showrooms, to name a few recent openings — show franchisees’ willingness and demand to open restaurants.

Fellow industry expert Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of Columbus, Ohio-based WD Partners, added that those Subway franchisees might be looking to open more units but, depending on where they are located, might not have the chance to grow as fast with more Subway locations as they could with a new concept, like BurgerFuel.

“It may not be about the 25,000-plus Subways [in the United States], but more about a franchisee’s home trade area, where it’s hard to expand your own franchise business and almost have to wait for somebody in the area to sell,” Lombardi said. “This gives the franchisees the opportunity to have a growth vehicle, and typically these kinds of new brands have a higher revenue potential relative to Subway’s.”

With BurgerFuel as a possible growth vehicle, Subway might have a way to enable its franchisees’ growth in more traditional spaces or make inroads with a slightly different customer base, Tristano said. He added that Subway’s tack of looking for a concept outside its segment — similar to Chipotle’s interests in ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen and Pizzeria Locale, or Buffalo Wild Wings’ investment in PizzaRev — is likely the better option than taking its current offering and trying a more upscale take on it, as Taco Bell plans to do with U.S. Taco Co. and Urban Taproom.

“Subway is looking for growth potential, and it probably has more opportunities outside of the sandwich segment than within sandwich,” Tristano said. “They should look at something that could work in a co-branded way, like maybe with desserts. They still have so many franchisees that they could really leverage that base.”

Lombardi added that BurgerFuel’s possible entry to the United States “is not exactly coming in at the early stage of the better-burger trend.” In addition to muscling into a crowded segment, BurgerFuel would present completely new operations models or real estate needs to Subway franchisees, but “that’s not an overwhelming issue” to the better-performing operators in the system, he said.

“Subway is doing something nice for its franchisees by making this concept available to them,” Lombardi said. “But you’re not going to give a marginal operator the ability to expand into a second concept. If they want to grow, they’ll have to show Subway they are good at what they do.”

Both experts agreed that a possible expansion of BurgerFuel in the United States could be an intelligent long-term plan for Subway, and neither saw it as an indication that Subway’s growth could be slowing down in the United States.

“If you think about Subway’s royalty stream coming into its two owners, it’s crazy; you probably wouldn’t need to do anything else,” Tristano said. “But progressive brands always need to think about where the future is. There may be a day when people don’t believe Subway is the healthiest restaurant in the world, so Subway would need some bench strength and a way to hedge a little.”

Lombardi said that day is not really close to arriving.

“There are no real negatives in this, and I’m not surprised it’s happening,” he said. “Subway is still the golden goose for them. I just interpret this as another growth angle, an ‘and,’ not an ‘or.’”

As of May 13, Subway had 41,800 restaurants in 106 countries.

With a Mouthful, A&W Hopes to Draw Baby Boomers’ Offspring

May 5, 2014

pictureA&W plans to submit to Guinness a 304-character hashtag promoting its Hand-Breaded Chicken Tender Texas Toast Sandwich.


THE popularity of the A&W Restaurants chain in the United States peaked in the 1960s and 1970s, when the number of locations — many with carhop service — swelled to 2,400, so it is no wonder that the brand stirs nostalgia in the baby boomer generation. But now A&W, which has about 700 restaurants, wants to make an impression on those boomers’ children, and the brand is increasingly turning to social media to do so.

To promote a new menu item with an unwieldy name, the Hand-Breaded Chicken Tender Texas Toast Sandwich, the brand is introducing a hashtag that is itself unwieldy: #supertastylargeandinchargetexastoasttwohandwichmadewithdeliciousonehundredpercentwhitemeathandbreadedchickentendersandyourchoiceofclassicorspicypapasauceeitherwayyoucan’tgowrongwowthatsoundsgoodyouneedtotryoneitsonlyavailableforalimitedtimeImgoingtohavetogogetonemyselfareyoustillreadingthisseeyouatAandW.

Along with deliberately defying the basic hashtag tenet of being simple to remember, at 304 characters it far exceeds the 140-character limit of Twitter, although other social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest allow longer hashtags.

A television commercial introduced on Monday opens with a voice-over asking: “How would you describe the Hand-Breaded Chicken Tender Texas Toast Sandwich?” To the sound of rapid clicking of keyboard keys, the speaker breathlessly rattles off about half of the hashtag, before slowing down and saying, “In other words, it’s a mouthful.” An end card directs viewers to the A&W website to see the full hashtag.

The brand is calling it the world’s longest hashtag, an assertion that may be difficult to prove, but it says it will seek recognition from Guinness World Records. (A search of the Guinness website yields five records related to Twitter and six related to Facebook, but none related to hashtags.)

The social media and advertising campaign is by Cornett Integrated Marketing Solutions, the agency of record for the chain. Both are based in Lexington, Ky. A&W, which declined to reveal expenditures for the campaign, spent only $876,000 on advertising in 2013, according to the Kantar Media unit of WPP. (Advertising expenditures for A&W root beer sold in stores, which is licensed in the United States by the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, is not reflected in the figure.)

A&W ranks 168th among all American restaurant chains, based on estimated yearly revenues of $184.4 million, according to Technomic, a restaurant consulting and market research firm.

“They’re a brand that’s trying to find their way,” said Darren Tristano, an executive vice president at Technomic. “It’s a nostalgia and legacy brand that is familiar to a number of Americans, but the problem with A&W is that it was a drive-in and it isn’t really a drive-in today.”

Among A&W’s 700 units in the United States, 50 are drive-ins, 200 are stand-alone dine-in restaurants, and the remainder are co-branded locations where it shares a roof with other fast-food establishments, primarily KFC and Long John Silver’s.

What A&W needs to do, Mr. Tristano said, is “rebuild their brand perception with millennials.”

Tim Jones, a creative director at Cornett, said that to reach younger consumers, the 95-year-old brand aims to strike a tone of “hip nostalgia” that characterizes older brands like Levi’s and Ray-Ban.

Rooty the Great Root Bear, an orange-sweater-wearing A&W mascot introduced in 1974, was returned to prominence in 2012 after having been, in the words of the brand, hibernating for about a decade. Today, A&W’s Twitter account, which has 7,200 followers, is written from the bear’s perspective.

“On Twitter, if you’re the voice of a seven-and-a-half-foot-tall bear with no pants, you can be a little bit more silly and more playful,” said Liz Bazner, associate manager of digital communications at A&W Restaurants. “The idea is also that Rooty doesn’t quite understand technology or Twitter, so he’d use a hashtag that would be too long for Twitter.”

In 2013, A&W created a profile for the mascot on LinkedIn, and when other users would add Rooty to their professional network, the bear would write far-fetched recommendations on their behalf.

“Using only a large-ish glass of water, he once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants,” Rooty wrote on behalf of one LinkedIn user. About another, he offered, “He can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with almost zero accuracy.”

LinkedIn removed Rooty’s profile a couple of weeks after it went up, citing a policy of permitting only actual people on the site. In response, the brand posted a video in mock indignation to YouTube.

An A&W smartphone app encourages users to draw a mug of root beer for the bear, who, when tapped on his stomach, emits a hearty belch. The app, Burping Rooty, also allows users to direct the bear to recite the alphabet in belch form.

“If you’d like to grab some attention for your business on social media,” Forbes.com reported in 2013, “A&W Restaurants is currently providing a training manual on a fun-filled way to do it.”

Don’t Count Out These Legacy Brands

May 2, 2014

It’s no surprise that the restaurant industry is a tough place to do business, especially now, when diners are more aware of restaurant operations and concepts have been tasked with meeting a variety of needs. Patrons crave both indulgence and better-for-you options. They seek authentic ethnic fare, but they also want items with local ingredients. Fresh, made-to-order items are key … but so is speedy service.

Clearly, chain restaurant operators have a lot on their plate.

With fickle patrons, increased competition and the still-recovering restaurant industry, some once-top restaurant chains have fallen through the cracks over the last several years and have been struggling to regain their foothold. For some, the loss in sales and unit counts may be too much and they may never return to the top. But that doesn’t mean they’ve given up. From brand refreshes to new concepts to international expansion, the following legacy chains are showing they’re committed to doing all they can to revamp their company.

1. Bennigan’s

Bennigan’s was a casual-dining pioneer. Developed by Norman Brinker and debuted in 1976, the “fern bar” offered a casual menu and heavy adult-beverage focus in an Irish pub setting. Bennigan’s grew rapidly in the ‘80s and ‘90s, along with the then-novel casual-dining segment.


What went wrong: As competition increased, Bennigan’s failed to keep pace with the likes of Chili’s and Applebee’s, and its menu, stores and service grew tired. Following then-parent S&A’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2008, all company-owned stores were shuttered; many franchised restaurants followed suit.

What’s happening today: The system was taken over by Atalaya Capital Management LP and CRG Partners, which refueled the chain over the next few years. Today, Bennigan’s has a new logo, restaurant prototype, menu and service emphasis, all meant to return the chain to its social pub roots to spark nostalgia in lapsed customers while attracting younger guests. According to Bennigan’s CEO Paul Mangiamele, the chain is steadily increasing its domestic store count while continuing to expand overseas, with expansion plans in place for India, Korea, Central America and other international markets.

While much has changed, fans of the chain will be delighted to know they can still get their World Famous Monte Cristo sandwich. In addition, in 2013, Bennigan’s announced it’s resurrecting its casual-dining Steak & Ale concept with a new gastropub prototype, set to debut in late 2014. The concept will features some returning traits, such as the chain’s famous salad bar, as well as some new features like a less cluttered décor, stained-glass windows that allow for a partial view of the kitchen, and a “Prime Rib Roaster” displayed in the dining room.

2. Fazoli’s

Fazoli’s was launched in 1988 by Jerrico Co., the same company that founded Long John Silver’s. With large, welcoming dining rooms and perks like unlimited breadsticks, the concept was promoted as an affordable alternative to casual-dining restaurants and grew rapidly in the ‘90s.


What went wrong: With its carb-heavy menu, Fazoli’s was hit hard by the low-carb craze in the early 2000s. And as chains like Olive Garden and Domino’s improved their recipes and new Italian concepts like Piada Italian Street Food entered the mix, Fazoli’s struggled to keep up. Between 2002 and 2012, the number of Fazoli’s units in the U.S. fell by 44%.

What’s happening today: Fazoli’s is striving to be a solid competitor in the fast-casual Italian segment, with 10 units in the pipeline for 2014. In recent years, the company has revamped its menu, switched to using real plates and silverware, and changed its service model—instead of patrons receiving their food at the counter, servers bring their meal to their table and refill their beverages.

Additionally, in 2013, Fazoli’s debuted a new fast-casual concept, Venti Tre, that offers made-to-order piada sandwiches, pasta and salads that can be customized from a choice of at least 23 ingredients. The chain also launched a smaller prototype to fuel expansion in nontraditional locations such as mall food courts and travel centers.

The changes appear to be working—Fazoli’s said its unit count stabilized in 2013 after a decade of closures, and the chain has reported positive same-store sales 36 out of the last 45 months for its company-owned restaurants and 46 out of the past 48 months for its franchised units.

In a March 11 news release on the chain’s positive sales, Fazoli’s President and CEO Carl Howard emphasized its dedication to service and quality fare, saying, “the combination of increasing service after the point of sale and providing our guests with highly craveable products, all at a price point under $7, is proving to be a winning formula.”

3. Ponderosa/Bonanza

Ponderosa and Bonanza began as separate steakhouse concepts in the 1960s and were consolidated into one brand in 1997 by then-parent company Metromedia Restaurant Group. By that time, Ponderosa/Bonanza had more than 600 units. Patrons frequented the chain thanks to its affordable options and all-you-care-to-eat buffet.


What went wrong: Over the years, Ponderosa/Bonanza has faced stiff competition from casual-dining steak concepts like Outback Steakhouse and Texas Roadhouse, who offered higher-quality steaks for just slightly higher prices. In addition, patrons seeking variety began turning not to buffet concepts but to varied-menu casual-dining chains, as patrons started to value quality over quantity. In 2008, Metromedia Steakhouses Co., the division of MRG that operated Ponderosa/Bonanza, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. At the time of the filing, there were more than 300 Ponderosa/Bonanza units systemwide. By the end of 2013, the company had about 220.

What’s happening today: In 2013, Ponderosa/Bonanza brought on a new president and CEO, Tom Sacco, and under his leadership, the company has debuted plans for a brand refresh that it’s been rolling out this year to all locations. The refresh includes interiors with brighter and fresher graphics, menu boards with digital displays and a redesigned buffet area with eco-friendly plateware. Menus are also being revamped with new appetizers, entrees and healthier fare, plus seasonal menu enhancements such as topped steaks and globally inspired seafood options.

The company has also been expanding internationally, particularly in the Middle East. In mid-2014, the company is scheduled to launch a new, full-service, more relevant Bonanza Steakhouse positioned to compete with other full-service, casual-dining steakhouses. Later this year, Ponderosa/Bonanza plans to launch a third steakhouse brand—a new, more contemporary concept—targeting the 25–45 demographic.

4. Sbarro

Sbarro’s history dates back to 1956 when the Sbarro family emigrated from Naples, Italy, and opened an Italian grocery store in Brooklyn, NY. There, they served authentic Italian fare such as made-from-scratch pizza and pasta. In 1967, the Sbarro family launched the chain’s signature quick-service mall prototype in Brooklyn’s Kings Plaza Shopping Center. The mall prototype allowed Sbarro to rapidly expand, and by 2010, it was operating more than 1,000 units in 41 countries.


What went wrong: Like Fazoli’s, Sbarro was hurt in the early 2000s when no- and low-carb diets were popular. Also, as a predominantly mall-based concept, Sbarro suffered as a result of the recession and decline in mall traffic. In April 2011, the chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to reduce their debt by approximately $200 million. The company emerged from bankruptcy at the end of 2011. In February 2013, with mall traffic continuing to decline, Sbarro closed about 180 company-owned U.S. units that were underperforming. In March 2014, Sbarro again entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a result of their remaining debt burden and the number of underperforming mall locations.

What’s happening today: With new leadership and a revamped infrastructure, Sbarro is restructuring the brand to better position it for future growth. The company said it’s undergoing “a complete rebranding with an emphasis on the determination and commitment to pride, passion and doing things right that the family inspired over 50 years ago.”

Sbarro is emphasizing its signature New York pizza, baked fresh all day in traditional stone ovens and featuring made-from-scratch dough prepared daily, San Marzano-style tomato sauce and hand-shredded 100% whole-milk mozzarella. The chain is also heightening its execution with improved operational performance and equipment to ensure every slice is sold hot and fresh.

To balance financial growth with an off-mall presence and to capitalize on the growing fast-casual pizza segment, Sbarro debuted a new fast-casual concept, Pizza Cucinova, in Columbus, OH, in 2013. Pizza Cucinova currently has two locations in Columbus and offers traditional Italian-inspired artisan-style pizzas and salads for lunch and dinner.

Sbarro executives say the reorganization and rebranding are off to a strong start and that they’re excited to begin a new chapter for the company.


TCBY, which stands for “The Country’s Best Yogurt,” has been serving frozen yogurt since 1981. The global quick-service chain offers both hand-scooped and soft-serve treats made with real dairy yogurt. In 2000, it was acquired by Mrs. Fields Famous Brands (now Famous Brands International), who launched cobranded TCBY/Mrs. Fields units.


What went wrong: TCBY was hit hard by increased competition in the frozen-dessert sector from premium ice-cream concepts like Cold Stone Creamery and the rise of self-serve frozen-yogurt chains like CherryBerry. TCBY introduced its own self-serve frozen-yogurt prototype in 2010, but the chain was already in decline. Between 2002 and 2012, TCBY closed 1,188 units.

What’s happening today: TCBY has seen modest unit growth in recent years and is seeing that growth accelerate in 2014, fueled by a change in ownership in 2013. That summer, global asset management firm Z Capital Partners acquired TCBY parent company Famous Brands International and launched an expansion plan for 50 TCBY units—all self-serve prototypes—in the U.S.

In the last year, Famous Brands has made key personnel changes by appointing a new CEO and senior vice president of strategic development, has introduced more healthful treats such as dairy-free Silk Chocolate Almond frozen yogurt made with Silk almond milk, and has driven franchise growth with TCBY and Mrs. Fields cobranded stores. This year, the chain plans to open 85 units and focus on its new in-store gifting business.

6. Tony Roma’s

Tony Roma, a former Playboy Club manager, opened his first namesake restaurant in Miami in 1972. It became known for its baby-back and St. Louis-style ribs—along with an extensive menu of steaks, chicken, burgers and seafood—served in a relaxed atmosphere. Three years later, the concept was purchased by Dallas Cowboys owner Clint Murchison and attorney Jack Peeples. NPC International Inc., the largest franchisee of Pizza Hut, acquired the chain for $20 million in 1993 and spun it off in 1998 to Sentinel Capital Partners.


What went wrong: The brand has been struggling in the U.S. for some time. After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, Sentinel sold Romacorp to bondholders as part of its restructuring in 2006. Between 2002 and 2012, Tony Roma’s closed 114 units in the U.S. The chain ended 2013 with 37 U.S. locations and a 9.2% decline in U.S. restaurant sales.

What’s happening today: Tony Roma’s is expanding both domestically and internationally, recently launching units in Bloomington, IL; Brooklyn, NY; Chile; Kobe, Japan; and Malaysia. The chain operates more than 150 units in 34 countries, and at least 17 new Tony Roma’s restaurants are expected to open domestically and internationally over the next year.

In the last 12 months, the chain has signed more development deals than it had signed in the last four years, including a deal to open 25 units in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Tony Roma’s also plans to launch another New York location in Long Island, two more sites in Malaysia, at least three restaurants in Myanmar and has signed several development agreements for Mexico’s Yucatan and San Luis Potosi markets.

Additionally, Tony Roma’s debuted a new concept, Tony Roma’s Fire Grill & Lounge, at its renovated Orlando site late last year. Designed to appeal to a younger demographic, the restaurant features a chef’s table, an open kitchen, a fire pit and a lounge area along with a new menu that Tony Roma’s is considering rolling out to other locations. The menu only features a few rib options and instead highlights gourmet entrée selections like pan-seared Alaskan cod with eight-vegetable hash, pearl couscous, red quinoa and lemon-basil pesto. A second Fire Grill & Lounge is slated to launch in the fall in Winter Park, FL.