Only a handful of restaurant brands have been around for 50 years. But Roy Rogers has been slinging burgers, roast beef and fried chicken since 1968.
The brand had some great years, some really bad years and everything in between including a few acquisitions, a total re-brand and then a total re-brand back to Roy Rogers and basic mismanagement. In a lot of ways, Roy Rogers brand returned to its roots in 2002 when the Plamondon family acquired it.
"Our dad actually helped start the brand when he worked for Marriott," said Co-CEO Jim Plamondon.
Since acquiring the brand from Imasco, Jim and his brother Pete Jr. have put Roy Rogers back on a growth plan. The brand now has 24 corporate locations and 31 franchised restaurants. It’s a fraction of the 650 restaurants that dotted the northeast in 1990, but the high-quality ingredients and classic, authentic branding mean Roy Rogers fits in pretty well with the new breed of elevated QSRs. It stands to pull market share from other QSR customers trading up.
"Roy Rogers is a little different, people go out of their way; they’ll drive past McDonald’s and Burger King to get to a Roy Rogers," said Plamondon. "We’d like to suggest that we’re somewhere between fast food and fast casual, we’re at about the $10 check range."
He said while he’s sometimes envious of concepts like In-N-Out Burger with its incredibly simple menu, instead of slimming things down, he’s expanding the menu beyond burgers, roast beef and fried chicken, which are about evenly split in sales. The large menu adds up for the restaurants, which pull in an average unit volume of $1.8 million. Now he’s adding a deeper salad platform.
"We’re not going to sell a lot of salads," he admitted. "I think we could create the greatest salad on earth and burgers would still be the best seller. But it’s avoiding the classic ‘veto vote.’"
But more important than salads, Plamondon said, are the modernizing efforts that have already made some serious impacts. There are the basics like updating menu boards and communicating brand qualities like fresh ingredients, classic recipes and brand story that the private equity folks are paying massive multiples for. The next phase is testing kiosks and expanding mobile ordering, which the company rolled out in early January.
He said the company is also doubling down on that down-home hospitality that’s embodied in the Roy Rogers name.
"A program that we recently launched in the restaurants is our host and hostess program," said Plamondon. "We’ve always had those people in the restaurants—and it’s something that not many fast food locations have—keeping the dining room clean, but the goal for them is to interact with the guest, bus trays, offer them mints."
The biggest success on the modernizing front has been a loyalty app. Since launching, the app surged to more than 25,000 downloads in a few months.
"Roy Rogers as a brand has always had loyal customers, so that’s been easier," said Plamondon. "That’s been successful in our view. We see that our rewards members are spending more just by virtue of being rewards members."
He said a partnership with Olo has also enabled easy mobile ordering, super fans in the mobile-ordering test markets are already using the app to skip ahead of the line from their cars.
Plamondon said that with the Roy Rogers name and the history behind them, it’s just a matter of keeping up with the rest of the industry on all those things beyond the food. So while the company is marketing around the big 50th anniversary, it's also getting a little work done.
"Strategically, I think we’ve always been a cut above, but that’s not to say we don’t constantly want to upgrade our game," said Plamondon. "We’re always go to be looking at it, so if were at 2.0 now, we’ve got to go to 3.0."