Analysts: Tia ‘Blew It’ Passing Up Outback

June 30, 2015

0411750336_15422277_8colJustine Griffin
Copyright 2015 Times Publishing Company. All Rights Reserved.
http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/retail/analysts-tampa-airport-blew-it-by-leaving-out-outback-steakhouse-bonefish/2234374

With ubiquitous chains like Outback Steakhouse, Bonefish Grill, Carrabba’s Italian Grill and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse, Tampa-based Bloomin’ Brands is the most muscular restaurant company in Tampa Bay.

It employs nearly 95,000 people in its 1,500 restaurants worldwide. It had $4.4 billion in revenue last year. It sponsors the Outback Bowl, one of Tampa Bay’s signature sporting events.

Earlier this year, Bloomin’ put in a bid to be a concessionaire at Tampa International Airport as part of a $953 million renovation there. Bloomin’ has had a Carrabba’s at the airport since 2008.

But airport staff rejected Bloomin’s bid, as did the Hillsborough Aviation Authority on June 4 when it voted to accept Guy Harvey RumFish Grill, the Cafe by Mise en Place and Four Green Fields instead, as it sought to make the airport’s restaurants feel more local. One board member, Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist, said Bloomin’s success worked against it – “Sometimes when you get too big, you lose your local identity,” he said.

But industry experts scoff at that notion and say the airport botched an opportunity to not only highlight a restaurant chain that has represented the Tampa Bay area as well as anyone, but to give travelers a familiar local restaurant brand to patronize.

“Frankly, if anyone is local to Tampa, it’s Outback,” said Malcolm Knapp, a restaurant economist in New York. “I think the airport authority just blew it. This decision is not the best for the traveling public.”

Officials with Bloomin’ Brands declined to comment for this story.

Tampa Bay has long had a reputation for being the home of chain restaurants. Hooter’s, Beef ‘O’ Brady’s and Checkers all have headquarters here. Bloomin’ was among the first. It opened in Tampa in 1988 with just one Australian-themed steakhouse.

“It’s a disadvantage to the airport, and disrespectful not to consider a brand whose roots come from that very community,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president with Technomic, a restaurant research firm in Chicago. “Bloomin’ Brands helps drive the local economy and provides local employment. The airport’s decision seems shortsighted.”

The Carrabba’s in the airport’s main terminal will be replaced by a P.F. Chang’s, an Asian-themed international restaurant chain with no ties to Tampa Bay other than a few locations here. It is one of several national chains included in the mix of new airport restaurants including Wendy’s, Hard Rock Cafe and Chick-fil-A.

“We had a committee in place to evaluate the bid proposals and choose which ones would be best,” said airport spokeswoman Janet Zink. “There were lots of great concepts proposed that didn’t get picked.”

Bloomin’ had hoped to add an Outback Steakhouse and a Bonefish Grillat the airport.

“The average restaurant-goer doesn’t know that Bloomin’ Brands is from Tampa, or even what Bloomin’ Brands is,” said Brian Connors of Connors DavisHospitality, a global food and beverage consulting firm in Fort Lauderdale. “But they know what Outback is or what Carrabba’s is. No one is winning on either side here. There will be local restaurants and there will be other chain restaurants. Why the airport didn’t choose the chain that is from there, I don’t know.”

That brand recognition that Bloomin’ has makes it a natural fit for an airport, Knapp said.

More than 40 percent of shoppers prefer to dine at national chains in airports, according to a 2013 survey by the Airports Council International, whereas 36 percent of travelers will try restaurants unique to that region.

“People who are traveling are going to gravitate toward brands they’re comfortable with and what they know,” Knapp said. “They don’t want to take any chances when they know they’re in a rush. That’s why too many local options doesn’t serve the total population of the airport well.”


New TIA Restaurant Lineup Represents Wave of the Future

June 18, 2015

screen-shot-2015-06-08-at-12602-pm-750xx1143-643-0-0Eric Snider
© 2015 American City Business Journals, Inc. All rights reserved.
http://www.bizjournals.com/tampabay/news/2015/06/08/new-tia-restaurant-lineup-represents-wave-of-the.html

“We’re building an airport for tomorrow, not yesterday,” says Maryann Ferenc, who is part of a team that landed a food-and-beverage concessions contract at Tampa International Airport.

The TIA board recently finalized its sweeping Concessions Redevelopment Program, part of a $940 million facility expansion.

The airport of tomorrow relies heavily on homegrown restaurants and bars. That’s particularly true for TIA, whose exhaustive bid and selection process forged a brand mix that will be roughly half local and half national/international when it’s fully rolled out in 2017.

The days of major airports housing predominantly familiar chain restaurants are waning, say experts in the field.

“The consumer has become more interested in supporting independent restaurants, and younger consumers particularly align with smaller brands,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, a Chicago-based food industry research firm. “In Chicago, when they got rid of chains and put a [local institution] Billy Goat Tavern in O’Hare, we heard nothing but positive response.”

Today’s travelers are increasingly interested in their destination’s sense of place, and that includes airports, which can serve as introductions to the larger community experience.

But some factions are concerned that too much emphasis on local brands might alienate hurried and harried travelers. Does a young family of four heading to the Midwest want to grab a nosh at Chili’s or take a chance on Tampa-founded Ducky’s Sports Lounge?

If revenue is the key objective, the naysayers contend, familiar offerings make more sense.

Bloomin’ Brands joined major airport concessionaire HMS Host in a bid to put an Outback Steakhouse and a Bonefish Grill at TIA. After ranking second to TPA Hospitality — led locally by Ferenc, who owns Mise en Place — HMS Host/Bloomin’ Brands filed an official protest to the airport.

As part of its argument, Bloomin’ told TBBJ of an anonymous, third-party survey it conducted. The results, said spokeswoman Elizabeth Watts, showed that travelers were 2.6 times more likely to visit Outback, Bonefish and Edison Food + Drink Lab (the third brand in the package, based in Tampa) than the roster posed by TPA Hospitality.

The TIA board rejected the protest, and the airport will get TPA’s all-local Rumfish Grill, Four Green Fields and The Café by Mise en Place.

The chain-vs.-local argument will play out most vividly in TIA’s Airside C. Exclusive to Southwest Airlines, it accounts for the highest passenger traffic of any airside: 35.3 percent of visitors, 6.1 million of them in fiscal year 2014. Currently, the Chili’s there — which will be phased out when the existing concessions contract ends this year — is the top-grossing restaurant at the airport.

When the new program is fully operational, Airside C will feature an almost exclusively local lineup:

Casual restaurants Cigar City Brewing, Rumfish Grill, PDQ, and Burger 21. A market concept that includes Bavaro’s, Louis Pappas Fresh Greek, Goody Goody burgers, Café Con Leche, Ulele Bar and Fitlife Foods. The only international brand is Starbucks Coffee.

Will that collection generate proportionately weaker sales than that of the main terminal, with its national/global brands Hard Rock Café, P.F. Chang’s, Qdoba Mexican Grill, Chick-Fil-A and Wendy’s?

We should have a fairly clear answer by 2020.

Big-picture thinkers contend that the TIA concessions program of the future should not solely be focused on the bottom line.

“The airport will be key in establishing Tampa Bay’s brand with visitors,” says Ferenc, who is a member of the federal Travel and Tourism Advisory Board. “When you think about where it puts us in drawing our share of the market that’s coming to Florida, it bolsters Tampa as an authentic place to go. Tourism-wise, our airport will be able to tell our story better than Orlando and Miami, and further define what Tampa is among Florida cities.”


App May Offer Doughnuts on Demand ; Dunkin’ is Exploring a Delivery Service

June 17, 2015

8849e1f883b10fbaf86357823c2ecf69Taryn Luna
© 2015 The Boston Globe. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All Rights Reserved.
http://www.betaboston.com/news/2015/06/09/dunkin-donuts-app-may-offer-doughnuts-on-demand/

At a time when a consumer can use an app on a smartphone to have a bottle of whiskey or an iPad Air delivered to the door in an hour, an instant order of munchkins and a Box O’ Joe might not be far behind.

Dunkin’ Donuts is the latest quick-service restaurant chain to wade into the so-called on-demand economy, acknowledging Monday that it is evaluating delivery services in conjunction with new mobile ordering technology the coffee-and-doughnuts chain is developing.

Dunkin’ is following in the footsteps of two rivals, Starbucks Corp. and McDonald’s Corp., both of which are testing deliveries to homes and offices this year.

Nigel Travis, chief executive of Dunkin’ Brands Group, the parent company, called delivery a “big opportunity” in an interview with CNBC.

The company said delivery might be built into an application currently in development. The app, which Dunkin’ began testing last year, would allow customers to order and purchase coffee and food on a smartphone and pick it up at a store.

Dunkin’ declined to provide details about how a delivery service would work and said it has not begun to test the system.

Dunkin’ Donuts and other fast-food chains face a particular challenge in delivering products: keeping their hot food and drinks at the right temperatures, said Darren Tristano, an executive vice president at Technomic Inc., a Chicago food industry research firm. While things like pizza and Chinese food retain heat during transport, Tristano said, some fast-food products don’t survive as well.

“It might reflect negatively on the brand,” Tristano said. “There’s great risk along with the opportunities.”

Food chains are quickly trying to catch up with the explosive popularity of on-demand delivery services such as Postmates and GrubHub, which can provide nearly anything consumers want, whenever they want it. The chains also hope deliveries will increase sales in a relatively stagnant quick-service industry.

Dunkin’ Donuts’ same-store sales in the United States increased 1.6 percent in fiscal 2014, compared with 3.4 percent the year before. Meanwhile, McDonald’s comparable sales declined 2.1 percent in 2014. Starbucks, the leading coffee and bakery chain in the country, reported a 6 percent jump during the same period.

Earlier this year, Starbucks and McDonald’s said they both planned to work with Postmates, the San Francisco-based 24-hour service, to deliver in select markets. Customers place orders on the Postmates app or website and local couriers pick up the goods from restaurants and stores. An order of a Big Mac and medium fries from McDonald’s, which includes a $5 delivery fee, costs about $11.

Although many consumers already can order a Big Mac or a Frappuccino through the Postmates system, the partnerships allow companies to integrate the ordering process into the food chains’ own mobile applications, control the transaction, and track consumer interests, Tristano said.

Starbucks said it will launch a “Green Apron” program with actual baristas delivering coffee in New York later this year.

Dunkin’s delivery and mobile ordering initiatives are being led by Scott Hudler, global vice president of consumer engagement.

The company said he was not available for an interview.

Tristano said Dunkin’s delivery service would probably increase sales modestly as existing customers shift to delivery. He said the service would appeal to consumers who are physically unable to visit a store, don’t have a car, don’t want to deal with parking, or “are just lazy and don’t want to get up and go.”


The Brass Tap to Open a Microbrewery in Carrollwood Bar

June 16, 2015

0435873611_15361234_8colJustine Griffin
Copyright 2015 Times Publishing Company. All Rights Reserved.
http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/retail/the-brass-tap-to-open-a-microbrewery-in-carrollwood-bar/2232977

The Brass Tapknows its customers can go just about anywhere to find a good beer these days.

In an effort to offer a more authentic experience beyond sampling the hundreds of beers it sells on tap and in bottles, the chain is opening its own microbrewery inside its bar on N Dale Mabry Highway in Carrollwood. The move to brew its own beer comes about a year after the chain abruptly closed its downtown St. Petersburg bar next to Rococo Steak. Despite the closure, the chain is still expanding aggressively, with four franchise locations poised to open in Florida this year and five others in the works in Texas, North Carolina and California.

“If you’re going to be a part of the craft beer movement, you have to be a destination,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president with Technomic, a Chicago-based restaurant research firm. “You have to be more exclusive. By brewing beer in-house, the Brass Tap is driving more credit to its brand.”

And with more competitors saturating the market, such as World of Beer and the Yard House craft beer and restaurant chain, you have to stand out.

“It’s amazing how many people want to open a brewery,” Tristano said.

Microbreweries are sprouting in record numbers in Tampa Bay and across the country. The industry recorded a 127 percent spike in the number of breweries that opened in 2014 compared with 2012, according to the Brewers Association trade group. More than 600 breweries opened in the United States last year, including Coppertail Brewing Co. in Tampa. In St. Petersburg, 3 Daughters Brewing opened in December 2013, and a half dozen others, such as 7venth Sun Brewery in Dunedin and Big Storm Brewing Co. in Odessa, opened in 2012.

Rory Malloy, the Brass Tap’s new brewing operations manager, will brew beer from a two-barrel “nano” system in a small brewery marked off by a glass wall from the rest of the Carrollwood bar. The beer will be offered for sale at the bar, and customers can watch and ask questions while Malloy brews. He hopes to brew his first beer by the end of the month.

“We’ve always used this location to train franchisee owners and test new products,” said Chris Elliott, CEO of Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, which purchased the Brass Tap in 2012. “The microbrewery is a test for us. Our customers already love craft beer and many of them are interested in the process. Now they can learn more about it here in our bar.”

The concept has been in the works for nearly two years, Elliott said. The Brass Tap worked with Cigar City Brewing CEO Joey Redner on the concept. Cigar City will be among the first of many local breweries invited to brew a guest batch of beer at the Brass Tap microbrewery, Elliott said.

The chain hopes to partner with many of Tampa Bay’s local breweries, and some national ones too, such as Samuel Adams and Founders.

The idea isn’t to compete with breweries for customers. It’s to partner with them.

“There are so many breweries opening within a 5-mile radius of us,” Malloy said. “We can all share our resources.”

The Brass Tap may offer home-brewing courses at the microbrewery.

“The craft beer segment started getting hot in the ’90s, when a lot of guys were trying to do brewpubs that offered food and beer. The overhead was huge and the audience just wasn’t there,” said Brian Connors of Connors Davis Hospitality, a global food and beverage consulting firm based in Fort Lauderdale. “One of the best things to happen to the craft beer movement is the millennial generation. They’re willing to pay more for something of quality that’s made locally.”


Just Top it With a Hot Dog? One Surprising New Trend

June 15, 2015

102751830-hot-dog-bites-pizza.530x298Katie Little
http://www.cnbc.com/id/102752349

Ketchup, mustard or both?

The most difficult part of preparing a hot dog used to be picking the toppings. But in today’s mashup-loving food world, the hot dog is the topping.

On Thursday, Pizza Hut plans to debut a new spin on the summer staple—a pizza with 28 bite-sized hot dogs baked into the crust and served with a side of mustard.

“I think people love hot dogs. In our case, people love pizza, and they’re willing to mash up foods more than ever,” public relations director Doug Terfehr said in a phone interview.

Pizza Hut is hardly alone at finding new ways to incorporate hot dogs into their menu. In the burger world, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s are selling what they call the “most American burger ever.” It’s a Black Angus beef patty topped with a split hot dog and potato chips.

In October, Wayback Burgers debuted the limited time Frank-N-Burger, which included two beef patties, a hot dog, American cheese and barbecue chips on top.

Abroad, KFC released the Double Down Dog, a hot dog wrapped with a fried chicken bun, in the Philippines earlier this year.

Even at the baseball field, where the hot dog is practically an institution, the humble frank is getting revamped. A minor league team in Delaware came up with its own spin on the meat—a hot dog sandwiched between two Krispy Kreme doughnuts and topped with bacon and drizzled with raspberry jam.

While these wacky creations are still few in number, they come amid signs the hot dog market is warming up.

Between 2013 and 2015, the appearance of hot dog entrees on menus rose 5 percent, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor, while the number of hot dogs served at restaurants rose nearly 3 percent in the two years ended in March, according to market research firm NPD Group.

So what’s driving restaurants to release these wacky hot dog mashups?

“These products do not have to be profitable for them to be successful,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic.

Instead, they are meant to capitalize on buzz marketing and spur people to think about the restaurant and then visit, he added. They also play off two broader themes in the food space: an overarching mashup trend and more interest in the hot dog.

At Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, the idea of a burger topped with a dog has been in the works for about a decade.

“It’s kind of a Fourth of July picnic on a bun,” said Brad Haley, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s chief marketing officer.

“We’re not into doing burgers just for kind of the buzz factor. They have to taste good and sell well—otherwise we wouldn’t do them.”

If that is the case, expect more hot dog mashups on to pop up on menus.

“I think this is an industry where if something is successful, it becomes a trial for other brands,” Tristano said.


Wahlburgers Goes for Burger Gold

June 12, 2015

pictureBy Joel Stein
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-05-28/wahlburgers-donnie-mark-paul-wahlberg-plot-fast-food-empire

Paul Wahlberg wanted to open a small restaurant in his hometown. Then his two famous brothers got involved

Paul Wahlberg can’t concentrate. He keeps looking around, fixating on a sticker stuck on a light and then a tiny carpet stain. Finally he can’t take it anymore and bolts up to correct the way an employee is changing a bulb. This isn’t a guy who should be starting a nationwide fast-food franchise. This is a man who should be placed gently back in his very small kitchen, with a limited number of things to stress about, as he has for decades as a cook at Boston restaurants including Alma Nove, an Italian restaurant he named after his sweet mother, Alma. After he comes back to the table, his eyes keep darting back and forth. “I got to touch up some paint,” he says. “I’m not telling you where.”

Paul’s two younger brothers are Mark (The Fighter, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch) and Donnie (CBS’s Blue Bloods, New Kids on the Block), both charismatic, fast-moving celebrities with agents, managers, and—as seen on HBO—entourages. They’re also Paul’s business partners in Wahlburgers, which until earlier this year was one little mall burger joint in Hingham, a suburb 30 minutes from Boston. In 2015, Wahlburgers plans to open dozens of locations in Florida, Las Vegas, New York, the Middle East, and several airports. They marketed it through a cartoonish reality show on A&E called Wahlburgers that’s even less suited for serious, shy Paul, 50, with his gray sweater zipped up to the very top. It’s a show about a neurotic chef who is mocked and terrorized by his cooler, easygoing famous brothers.

“In a perfect world, Paul would have the one restaurant and in eight years possibly open a second restaurant,” says Mark, 43, calling from a golf course in Los Angeles. But once Paul invoked the family name, Mark decided to plan a full chain and pitch the reality show. “I said, ‘Paul, if you want to build a one-off, call it Paul’s Burger.’ I wanted to grow a real business that was passed on to future generations.” (Among them, the three brothers have eight kids.)

Donnie, 45, had to find a way to get Paul and Mark to compromise, slowing Mark down to assure quality and speeding Paul up to begin expansion. In 2014, Donnie took a train to Hingham every time he had a break from taping Blue Bloods in New York. Sometimes he’d write menu descriptions, but more often he’d try to convince Paul that Wahlburgers had to grow more quickly. “Paul’s so intense that everything gets heated. If one tomato is sliced wrong, he’d be on the verge of a nervous breakdown,” he says. There are nine siblings, and while Donnie and Mark share the fame thing, Donnie’s always been closest to Paul, so it fell on him to determine how to scale his older brother’s burgers. They cost $7.15 to $9.50 and are high-enough quality to satisfy fans who traveled for a special experience but not so expensive that they’re untrue to lower-class, Southie roots, the essence of the Wahlberg brand.

“What people generally think about Mark and Donnie Wahlberg is that they are hardworking people who are hustling and humble,” says Cory Isaacson, a partner at the marketing agency Walton Isaacson, which promoted Bethenny Frankel’s Skinnygirl brand when she was on The Real Housewives of New York. “If Katy Perry opened a burger joint, no one would think she’s actually affiliated with it.”

Mark said, “‘Paul, if you want to build a one-off, call it Paul’s Burger.’ I wanted to grow a real business.”

Based on that logic, the Wahlbergs believe they can win the ongoing burger war in the U.S. The battle kicked off a few years ago, when McDonald’s started teetering; earlier this year it fired its chief executive officer after its worst sales slump since 2001. In the meantime, the so-called better-burger category has stolen market share, with Five Guys growing from five stores in 2001 to 1,270, and Shake Shack doubling its market valuation during its first day of stock trading in January. It’s now worth more than $2.8 billion, with just 69 stores, or more than $41 million per stand. The category is saturated with its own fat: Smashburger (320 locations), Elevation Burger (52), the Counter (40), and Umami Burger (24) are growing at a fast clip nationally.

Wahlburgers is trying to differentiate itself by being both a restaurant like Umami and the Counter and a fast-food joint like Shake Shack and Smashburger. A third of each franchise is devoted to counter service, but there are also servers and a full bar. Paul was insistent about this concept, even as his brothers, outside investors, and their CEO—Rick Vanzura, former chief operating officer of Panera Bread, who first reached out on Facebook—pushed for the lower labor costs of self-service. “That’s not what I wanted to bring into the world,” Paul says. He wanted a place where older people are comfortable and bartenders sometimes dance to pop music, some of which is sung by his brothers.

One thing Vanzura brought with him from Panera was the belief that he could control quality by—unlike McDonald’s—having a large number of stores owned by a small number of franchisees, all of whom must have at least $5 million in net worth to be considered as partners. “People will say what we’re doing is unprecedented as far as growth from a single unit,” Vanzura brags as he eats a sweet potato tater tot. To get his job, he went to meet Donnie on the set of Blue Bloods, where NKOTB fans often lurk. (“I’m used to having a job interview in a job setting. A handler was walking me to his trailer, and I saw a sea of middle-aged women waiting there,” he says.) He met Mark at a Nobu, in New York, where they kept being interrupted by the waiter with special dishes the chef sent out. Mark in particular has been a good co-owner, Vanzura says: “When he calls franchisees and says, ‘I’m behind this and will make sure it gets a lot of exposure,’ that carries a lot of weight.”

None of this would’ve taken off without Mark’s TV idea. The original Wahlburgers had some pretty weak nights until the show began airing in 2014. Afterward, Paul had to start opening an hour earlier, at 11, once he saw people lined up outside. They did more than 400,000 checks in the tiny restaurant last year. The company is private, so Paul won’t reveal its annual revenue.

Despite seeming like more of a pun than a TV show, Wahlburgers is airing its third season. It averages 2 million viewers, according to Nielsen, and was nominated for an Emmy. Its success gives the chain a chance in a burger field that’s already pretty mature. “They’re expanding in Vegas, Miami,” says Sam Oches, the editor of QSR (quick-service restaurant) magazine. “This is what celebrity chefs do: move to very tourist-friendly places.”

But Darren Tristano, who covers food service for the market research company Technomic, thinks a split-service restaurant limits growth. “If you’re in a neighborhood looking for a place to sit down to eat, it’s going to work,” he says. “But when you look at the U.S. in terms of gross opportunities, there aren’t as many of those markets around.”

Hingham, a tony Boston suburb where New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick lives, certainly qualifies. It’s 11:30 a.m., and Wahlburgers is full of people essentially eating ground meat for breakfast. Alma walks around chatting with customers. She’s on the show, too, and has become a bona fide reality star, coming in on Saturdays to flit between the tables. After raising famous kids, she’s loving her own fame: “My friends said, ‘Doesn’t it drive you crazy?’ Are you kidding? People want to talk to me!” Paul nods sideways in disagreement. Sitting down for lunch, he looks flummoxed when a waitress brings him a hat to autograph for some customers. “It had always been, ‘Yo yo yo. You’re Mark and Donnie’s brother,’ ” he says. Paul liked it much better that way.


Sale Could Provide the Boost Frisch’s Has Been Searching For

June 12, 2015

http://www.bizjournals.com/cincinnati/news/2015/05/22/sale-could-provide-the-boost-frischs-has-been.html

bigboyface-750xx1739-2331-0-258Andy Brownfield
© 2015 American City Business Journals, Inc. All rights reserved.
Family-style restaurants like Cincinnati-based Frisch’s Restaurants Inc., which announced a planned sale to a private equity fund Friday, have been in decline for years. But an industry watcher says that segment is starting to turn around.

Chains like Frisch’s (NYSE: FRS) have been losing customers for 15 years to everything from fast casual concepts to fine dining to the growing a.m. eateries segment – restaurants like First Watch that stay open only for breakfast and lunch – Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Chicago food industry research firm Technomic, told me.

“Overall this segment has seen competition across the board,” he said. “Older consumers who are more traditional and grew up with these brands have shifted to other types of restaurants and aged out of spending. Younger consumers have seen the brands they grew up with, the fast casuals, become more of a preferred destination.”

That’s not to say it’s all bad news for the family-style restaurant segment. It has been growing as of late.

“The lower-middle income groups have been helped by improved employment, lower gas prices and higher disposable income,” Tristano said. “Because of that, this segment has done a little bit better.”

The segment grew 3 percent last year, up from no growth the previous year. However, that still pales in comparison to the 10 percent growth seen by the fast casual segment.

That slow growth or lack thereof put Frisch’s in a pickle, as outlined in the Courier’s Feb. 6 cover story.

In 2012, Frisch’s agreed to sell its 29 Golden Corral franchise restaurants in Cincinnati and six other cities to NRD Holdings LLC, which was led by Aziz Hashim. Golden Corral corporate exercised its right of refusal and purchased the restaurants itself. Hashim’s NRD Partners is set up to acquire Frisch’s for $175 million, or $34 per share, if shareholders approve the acquisition.

“At that point in time, the board started to say, ‘Where do we go from here in terms of creating shareholder value?'” recalled Mark Lanning, Frisch’s chief financial officer. “The board looked at various alternatives and finally looked upon the sale of the company. That process had been ongoing.”

The acquisition could be the shot in the arm Frisch’s needs, at least in terms of profitability. Private equity firms don’t try to revive brands but come in and try to make them profitable at the headquarters and corporate levels as well as more effective in advertising, Tristano said.

“When we look at Big Boy, it’s a very iconic brand,” he said. “It has strong opportunity to not only remain but increase relevance. I think with the right plan and right people, if they’re willing to invest into the brand to grow it, they could be on track.”