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Togo’s debuts new branding effort

Ready for its first growth push since its sale from former owner Dunkin’ Brands, the Togo’s sandwich chain has debuted a new branding plan that aims to highlight its history as a “West Coast original.”

Togo’s Eateries Inc. opened a new prototype design in June in Valencia, Calif., followed by two more units with the new look in Sparks, Nev., and Palm Desert, Calif. Three more are scheduled to open before the end of the year.

The rest of the units within the 242-unit mostly franchised chain will also undergo a remodel to incorporate the new look, which includes refreshed menu boards, uniforms, new fresh bread displays and a new logo and signage, said Renae Scott, Togo’s Eateries vice president of branding and marketing.

The efforts aim to drive franchise growth, which is gaining steam after a few slow years while the chain was in transition, said Tony Gioia, Togo’s Eateries chairman and chief executive. The company now has the goal of opening 50 units over the next two years, focusing on the West Coast.

Togo’s was founded in 1971 in San Jose and is known for its big, meaty, made-to-order sandwiches with quality ingredients.

Growing to about 200 units, the chain was acquired in 1997 by Allied Domecq, then-parent to Canton, Mass.-based Dunkin’ Brands. The goal at the time was to co-brand the sandwich concept with Dunkin’ Brands’ Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins to extend franchisee daypart potential.

With Dunkin’ Brands, Togo’s grew to more than 400 units in the early 2000s, said Gioia, who is a former president of Baskin-Robbins.

In 2007, Togo’s was divested by Dunkin’ Brands, and was acquired by Gioia in partnership with private-equity firm Mainsail Partners of San Francisco. At the time, Togo’s included about 260 units.

Over the past three years, Gioia has moved away from co-branding, focused on building the chain’s management team and tinkered with the format to revive the “essence of this 40-year-old brand,” he said.

The refresh, for example, includes a return to one-to-one service style, in which one employee works with the customer to create the sandwich, rather than the sandwich moving down an “assembly line” as it is made, said Gioia.

Rather than having individual prices by size, menu boards now show pricing for regular-sized sandwiches and guests can “go large” for a standard $1.50 more.

Togo’s introduced smaller “Mini Classic” sandwiches last fall, which are made on round buns for $2.50 and have become a permanent menu option, Scott said.

And, for the seemingly magic price point of $5, Togo’s is offering a daily special sandwich, chips and a drink, rather than the “long, skinny breadwich” offered by other sandwich chains for that price, said Scott.

Gioia said sales in 2009 were “tough” systemwide, but so far this year both same-store sales and traffic levels are up and climbing, though he declined to give specifics.

He said Togo’s average annual sales per unit are around $600,000, with lunch as the primary daypart. The average check is about $8.25.

Scott said build-out costs for the new prototype range between $250,000 and $300,000 for units between 1,200- and 1,400 square feet.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].

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