CYPRESS Calif. Coming off a year of same-store sales challenges, Chevys Fresh Mex has turned to celebrity bar pours and a new repertoire of seafood menu specials in an effort to build traffic, sales and guest loyalty.
The 90-unit division of Cypress-based Real Mex Restaurants, which is also parent of El Torito, Acapulco and other Mexican concepts, is using a “Catch A Wave” promotional message for its spring “Baja Seafood” menu specials and its new Cabo Wabo Rock ‘N Rita bar item.
The new menu items include citrus-marinated pork tacos, "drunken" shrimp fajitas, a creamy shrimp Baja burrito, Dos Equis beer-battered shrimp tacos and a Baja pineapple sundae that has the fruit flamed with tequila.
Pricing can vary by restaurant, but the food specials are priced from $8.99 to $13.99 and the Cabo Wabo margarita at $7.25 in some markets.
The new margarita is made with rocker Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo Blanco Tequila, fresh lime, orange and lemon juices, and housemade agave nectar sweet-and-sour mix. The drink is shaken at tableside and served with a choice of salt or watermelon-, pineapple- or lime-flavored sugars on the rim.
Tapping into the growing interest in online videos to educate customers about the new menu items and Chevys’ scratch-cooking philosophy, the chain has put corporate chef Alan Skversky before the camera. Click here  to see a video on YouTube.com in which Skversky offers a behind-the-scenes look at Chevys' latest menu items. The chain has another “How Fresh Are We?” backgrounder video  featuring Skversky on its website.
Chevys also has promoted the seasonal menu items available through July 5 at all 66 company-owned company stores and at most of the chain’s 24 franchised locations through newspaper advertising and in-store point-of-purchase materials.
Lowell Petrie, Chevys' chief marketing officer and senior vice president of marketing, said the flavored rim options available for the Cabo Wabo Rock ‘N Rita give the drink several unique flavor profiles so guests can enjoy a different version each time they visit of the chain’s restaurants.
Cabo Wabo’s “wild, off-beat brand personality is a perfect fit for Chevys,” said Petrie, who joined the chain last year from Daphne’s Greek Cafe. Petrie has also worked at Mimi’s Cafe, Ruby’s Diner, Famous Restaurants and Denny’s, among other brands.
For the year ended in December, Chevys’ company-owned restaurants generated $173.1 million in aggregate sales, or estimated average annual sales of about $2.6 million, down about 9 percent from $2.8 million the year before, according to filings Real Mex made with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Real Mex Restaurants, which operates a total of 213 casual-dining Mexican restaurants and franchises another 32, including eight overseas, reported a companywide same-store sales decline of 10.4 percent for the year ended Dec. 27. Most of the company's locations are located in California, which as been hard hit by the economic downturn.
In its annual 10-K filing with the SEC, officials at Real Mex said they do not expect the economy to improve in 2010. They added that the company is “focused on minimizing the impact on our 2010 sales by providing increased value offering to our customers to increase guest counts and customer loyalty.”