Vicorp tests fast-casual Bakers Square variant by opening prototype in an existing restaurant

Vicorp tests fast-casual Bakers Square variant by opening prototype in an existing restaurant

ROSEVILLE MINN. —In an attempt to attract new, younger customers and defend its family-dining territories against encroaching bakery-cafe chains, Denver-based Vicorp Inc. is testing a fast-casual variant here of its 146-unit Bakers Square concept.

Other full-service chains have created smaller versions of their brands to function in airports or shopping mall food courts, or even as standalone units, and the Big Boy [3] chain has at least one quick-service-style drive-thru unit in Southern California. But the new Bakers Square “Square & Cafe” prototype is different in that it’s a restaurant within a restaurant. —In an attempt to attract new, younger customers and defend its family-dining territories against encroaching bakery-cafe chains, Denver-based Vicorp Inc. is testing a fast-casual variant here of its 146-unit Bakers Square concept.

The sign above the recently remodeled Roseville unit still reads Bakers Square, evoking a brand that’s been known for its pies for more than 30 years in the upper Midwest and California. —In an attempt to attract new, younger customers and defend its family-dining territories against encroaching bakery-cafe chains, Denver-based Vicorp Inc. is testing a fast-casual variant here of its 146-unit Bakers Square concept.

However, a street-front sign reads Square & Café. Customers have a choice when they enter. On one side they can be seated in the traditional dining room and be waited on by a server, or they can head in the other direction, check out the menu board and place an order with a cashier. They can take their order to go, or sit on bar stools or at tables and have their food brought to them. Patrons with laptop computers can take advantage of the free Wi-Fi, or “Wi-Pie” as wireless Internet access is called by the restaurant. —In an attempt to attract new, younger customers and defend its family-dining territories against encroaching bakery-cafe chains, Denver-based Vicorp Inc. is testing a fast-casual variant here of its 146-unit Bakers Square concept.

“We know fast casual and even fast feeders tend to take business away from our category; this is a way to get new people into our restaurants,” said Josh Kern, vice president of marketing for Vicorp, which also is operator or franchisor of more than 250 Village Inn [4] family restaurants. —In an attempt to attract new, younger customers and defend its family-dining territories against encroaching bakery-cafe chains, Denver-based Vicorp Inc. is testing a fast-casual variant here of its 146-unit Bakers Square concept.

Vicorp is still evaluating the consumer response and sales at Square & Café, and will likely make a decision about expanding the concept in the first half of this year, Kern said. —In an attempt to attract new, younger customers and defend its family-dining territories against encroaching bakery-cafe chains, Denver-based Vicorp Inc. is testing a fast-casual variant here of its 146-unit Bakers Square concept.

If Vicorp develops more Square & Café units, the brand would join the ranks of such chain operators as P.F. Chang’s China Bistro [5] and California Pizza Kitchen [6], which have launched fast-casual off-shoots to the core concepts. But Vicorp is one of the few, if not the only, major family-dining companies to try such an endeavor. —In an attempt to attract new, younger customers and defend its family-dining territories against encroaching bakery-cafe chains, Denver-based Vicorp Inc. is testing a fast-casual variant here of its 146-unit Bakers Square concept.

Family dining, which long has been squeezed between casual dining and quick service, may be more suited to creating a limited-service version of itself, said consultant Ron Paul, president of Chicago-based Technomic Inc. —In an attempt to attract new, younger customers and defend its family-dining territories against encroaching bakery-cafe chains, Denver-based Vicorp Inc. is testing a fast-casual variant here of its 146-unit Bakers Square concept.

“Family dining has always been friendly for takeout, and it’s easy to do business with,” Paul said. “You already pay at the register.” —In an attempt to attract new, younger customers and defend its family-dining territories against encroaching bakery-cafe chains, Denver-based Vicorp Inc. is testing a fast-casual variant here of its 146-unit Bakers Square concept.

The average check at a typical Bakers Square is $9.50, and that so far as been the same at Square & Café, Kern said. Pie sales have not declined, and customers do not seem confused by the two options when they enter the restaurant. —In an attempt to attract new, younger customers and defend its family-dining territories against encroaching bakery-cafe chains, Denver-based Vicorp Inc. is testing a fast-casual variant here of its 146-unit Bakers Square concept.

Sales volumes are up by unspecified amounts at the restaurant and at all of the chain’s more than 30 Minneapolis stores that have had their decor and menus updated, he added. —In an attempt to attract new, younger customers and defend its family-dining territories against encroaching bakery-cafe chains, Denver-based Vicorp Inc. is testing a fast-casual variant here of its 146-unit Bakers Square concept.

The Square & Cafe upstart is part of a strategy to improve the performance of the struggling Bakers Square brand, which began in the 1970s as Mrs. C’s in Des Moines, Iowa. Pillsbury bought the restaurant, renamed it Poppin’ Fresh Pies and grew it into a Midwestern chain before selling it to Vicorp in 1983. —In an attempt to attract new, younger customers and defend its family-dining territories against encroaching bakery-cafe chains, Denver-based Vicorp Inc. is testing a fast-casual variant here of its 146-unit Bakers Square concept.

Last spring, Vicorp named its third chief executive in six years with the appointment of industry veteran Ken Keymer, formerly of AFC Enterprises [7], Noodles & Company [8] and Sonic [9] Inc. —In an attempt to attract new, younger customers and defend its family-dining territories against encroaching bakery-cafe chains, Denver-based Vicorp Inc. is testing a fast-casual variant here of its 146-unit Bakers Square concept.

Vicorp is privately held but has public debt. While Village Inn reportedly had a rise in systemwide foodservice sales in recent years, sales at Bakers Square fell nearly 3.5 percent in 2006. Village Inn’s sales that year were $361 million, up from $342 million in 2005, while Bakers Square had 2006 sales of $208 million, down from $215 million in the previous year. —In an attempt to attract new, younger customers and defend its family-dining territories against encroaching bakery-cafe chains, Denver-based Vicorp Inc. is testing a fast-casual variant here of its 146-unit Bakers Square concept.

Because it is a family-dining restaurant, Bakers Square’s customers tend to skew toward senior citizens. Creating a fast-casual concept similar to that of bakery-cafe segment leader Panera Bread [10] may help to attract young, urban professionals, Kern said. —In an attempt to attract new, younger customers and defend its family-dining territories against encroaching bakery-cafe chains, Denver-based Vicorp Inc. is testing a fast-casual variant here of its 146-unit Bakers Square concept.