Roti Mediterranean Grill is evolving beyond the rotisserie — and its name.
The 22-unit, Chicago-based chain is undergoing a major makeover as it looks to expand with a fast-casual menu of fresh, Mediterranean fare, the company told Nation’s Restaurant News. The company opened a new unit this week with a new menu, a new look and even a new moniker: Roti Modern Mediterranean.
In the process, it is shifting from a chain that cooks its meat on vertical rotisseries to open-fire grills.
“When people see vertical rotisseries, they think of a restaurant serving shawarma or gyros,” CEO Carl Segal said. “Those aren’t necessarily associated with high-quality, wholesome products and a high-quality experience. Mediterranean has so much more to offer. We just want to move away from being pigeonholed as another place you can get shawarma or kabobs.”
The rotisserie is labor intensive, requiring a person to slice the meat as it’s ready, so the restaurant can’t control how much is made. “You have to use the whole thing up or cut it down at the end of the day and refrigerate it,” Segal said.
While “roti” is short for rotisserie, Segal isn’t worried about the impact of removing rotisseries from a brand named after them.
“To tell you the truth, not many people get the connection,” Segal said.
And it’s not like the company is abandoning its signature products. The Chicken Roti and the Steak Roti will simply be prepared over an open flame, where it will be fresher.
“Frankly, they taste better,” Segal said. “The quality of the meat is better, we think, and our customers are telling us it’s better than on the rotisseries.”
The shift also enables the company to broaden its menu to offer a wider variety of fresh Mediterranean items, which are more on-trend with consumer demands at the moment.
Roti opened its first location in the Chicago area in 2007 and grew rapidly in the years afterward. For instance, it was named a Nation’s Restaurant News “Breakout Brand” in 2013. Early last year the chain brought in Segal to be the chain’s CEO. Segal came to the company from Potbelly Sandwich Works, where he had been senior vice president of operations.
“I’ve been a Roti customer for a long time,” Segal said. “I love the food.”
The company opened the first restaurant with the new brand and the new menu and design last week. It has plans to retrofit the remaining 21 locations over the next year to give them the same menu and branding elements, and replace the rotisseries with grills.
The new design of Roti Modern Mediterranean uses natural materials like stone, marble, wood and painted tiles, along with a neutral color scheme.
The neutral colors ensure that the bright colors come from the food. Customers can see the green salads when they walk in the door, as well as the pickled vegetables on display above the juices.
“It’s very warm,” Segal said. “It’s very inviting. Your eye is drawn immediately to the color and the vibrancy of the food.”
Segal said the new design gives the company something it never had before. “We’ve always had a really great, loyal customer base and terrific food,” he said. “But our brand expression never quite lined up with the way we executed the food. This new Roti Modern Mediterranean is the first time we’ve really hit on the connection between our brand and our physical space.”
But it’s the shift in the menu that will be the biggest difference. “We rounded out the menu quite a bit,” Segal said. The char grill enables the company to offer a menu that includes items like Spicy Lamb Meatballs and seafood.
The company also has a wider selection of salad greens and new grain dishes, including a Quinoa Cauliflower Tabouli.
And the new location offers fewer sodas and more housemade juices and teas, as well as bottled water. “It’s simpler and more healthful,” Segal said. “We believe that by featuring the other items more prominently, it will help people make better choices.”
Another drink selection will be beer and wine on tap. “We think Mediterranean food is best enjoyed with a glass of wine,” Segal said. And the reception among customers has been excellent. “Our first week we sold more beer and wine than I anticipated,” he said.
The company shifted its menu, Segal said, because customer demands are changing. “That’s really the reason we did it,” he said. “It was based on where our customers are going. And we want to lead them. We are leading a food revolution at this point, and there are a very, very, very small handful of us out there doing this high quality, fresh food.”