CINCINNATI (AP) — Big Boy without his Big Boy double-decker; menu additions; a revamped, brighter restaurant with a kids’ zone, and experimentation with “brupper” are among changes underway at Frisch’s Restaurants Inc. as its new leadership tries to competitively beef up the regional chain.
Atlanta-based NRD Capital’s $175 million acquisition last August ended family operation of the Cincinnati-based regional business dating to a 1939 drive-thru that later acquired trademark rights in Ohio and nearby states for Big Boy, originated in California. The private equity firm named industry veteran Jason Vaughn the new CEO in April and has slowly — and cautiously — been making changes.
The chain recently unveiled Big Boy’s new look — no longer hoisting his signature sandwich and his formerly chubby cheeks noticeably tighter.
“He’s a little thinned down, but he’s still a big boy,” Vaughn said, chuckling.
In an AP interview, Vaughn and Anne Mejia, the new executive vice president of marketing, explained that Big Boy’s different look is meant to signal other changes are underway in the chain, which had been profitable but faced increasing casual-dining competition.
“The evolving of the Big Boy himself is a part of the broader picture,” Vaughn said. “We’re evolving Big Boy, we’re evolving our venue; how it looks and the food offerings, and we’re just evolving the brand.”
The Frisch’s in Covington, Kentucky, near the Ohio River has brighter colors and lighting, updated employee attire and dinnerware, and homey touches such as local artwork and clocks showing the time in nearby towns. The new-look prototype rolled out there June 29 includes images around the restaurant of the new-look Big Boy, a “community table” to encourage convivial dining, and the kids’ area where children can color and hang up their results.
Frisch’s earlier began a line of “prime-time” burgers to augment the Big Boy double-decker, Brawny Lad and its other traditional sandwiches, and July will bring the western barbecue burger with special barbecue sauce. Frisch’s is moving into appetizers such as new mozzarella sticks and planning new drinks for summer including a lemonade fizz, lemonade-and-tea drink, and a raspberry lemonade.
Regular guest Shirley McDonald, of Cleves, Ohio, agreed Frisch’s needed some changes.
“I like Frisch’s, but they need to get a wider variety on their menu,” she said.
Besides offering breakfast items any time, Frisch’s in June tried out “brupper”: its breakfast buffet for Wednesday evening supper time. Vaughn said the trial was well-received by customers and is being evaluated.
“The changes we’ve been talking about haven’t been made in a silo,” Vaughn said. “We have a lot of consumer research and we’re listening to our guests.”
Frisch’s operates 95 Big Boy restaurants and franchises 25 others in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. It also holds the Big Boy trademark rights for Tennessee and plans to expand there, but Vaughn said there was no timetable for that to discuss.
He also said the “classic Big Boy” figure will remain visible at restaurants in the form of the statues out front.
That’s good news to customer McDonald, 71, who said she has amassed Big Boy figurines, banks and other collectables over the years.
“I’d miss him,” she said.
Follow Dan Sewell at http://www.twitter.com/dansewell. For some of his other recent stories: http://bigstory.ap.org/content/dan-sewell
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