Five years after Village Inn was acquired by multiconcept operator American Blue Ribbon Holdings LLC, the family-dining chain is poised for new growth.
Denver-based Village Inn recently said six new franchisees have signed on for 12 new units. Three locations have already opened in Fargo, N.D.; Tampa, Fla.; and El Paso, Texas.
In 2014, at least six new restaurants are scheduled to open, including three company-owned and three franchised locations. Currently, the 207-unit chain includes 121 company-owned and 86 franchised units.
Jeff Guido, Village Inn’s president since 2006 and a 37-year veteran of the chain, said a brand revitalization under American Blue Ribbon Holdings has sparked new momentum.
American Blue Ribbon Holdings acquired Village Inn from Vicorp Restaurants Inc., which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2008. Based in Nashville, Tenn., American Blue Ribbon Holdings has grown to include a number of full-service brands, including O’Charley’s, Ninety Nine, Max & Erma’s and Bakers Square.
Today, Village Inn has had 17 consecutive quarters of same-store sales increases. In 2013, same-store sales rose 3.1 percent over the prior year among company-owned locations. Average unit volumes have grown over the past four years to between $1.6 million and $1.7 million, Guido said.
According to the Nation’s Restaurant News’ Top 200 Census estimates, Village Inn recorded systemwide sales of $331.3 for fiscal 2013, a decrease of 1.5 percent over the prior year, due to the closure of 12 units in 2011.
Guido discussed Village Inn’s momentum with Nation’s Restaurant News.
Tell me about the reimaging program.
The reimaging has been an exciting program for us. We started in 2009 and have reimaged 119 of 121 (company-owned) restaurants. We’ve spent about $14 million revitalizing the look and feel of the concept in general. We started with the outside and worked inward to the interior.
The physical look has changed, including the exterior color scheme, and the logo is more modern looking. Inside, we’ve also changed the color scheme, the seating floor plan, the graphics.
All of that was a big win for us when you look at the consumer response. We’ve enjoyed over 17 quarters of same-store sales increases. Customers are definitely saying we’re improving from a service aspect, too.
What kind of sales lift have you seen at reimaged locations?
We have seen strong single- and double-digit sales lifts, and the important thing is we’ve maintained it. We haven’t seen a slump. But that’s also because we have changed a lot of other things besides the look and feel of the physical plant. We are also delivering on higher quality service.
What about the menu?
We are a breakfast-all-day concept, and that’s trending today. It’s one of the dayparts that has grown over last three years. So we have been consistent with our menu in delivering breakfast all day long.
But we have also added some neat items as well. One is called My Incredible VIB, or Village Inn Breakfast, which adds value both in price and in customization.
What makes it so customizable?
For one price of $7.29, guests can choose from more than 30 selections. You can choose from four areas: eggs, protein/meat, potatoes and indulgent items. So you can pick scrambled eggs or an omelet, for example; bacon, ham or chicken fried steak. You might choose hash browns or country-fried potatoes, and we add the options of granola and yogurt to that area. Then you can get something indulgent, like crepes, pancakes or French toast. There are about 27,000 variations.
What percentage of sales do restaurants see in the morning versus later dayparts?
The breakfast and lunch dayparts are pretty even, around 30 percent to 33 percent. Dinner is a bit lower.
With more restaurants introducing or upgrading breakfast, how is Village Inn handling the competition?
We welcome the challenge. We have great atmosphere and provide great service. Our offerings are second to none.
Have you added any sort of fast-casual component or speedier service in the morning for time-challenged consumers?
The VIB is easy to execute for us, but we have also added kitchen display systems to help us keep track of speed of service and overall dine times.