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Cracker Barrel developing fast-casual concept

Cracker Barrel developing fast-casual concept

Variation is part of overall strategy to extend the brand

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. is developing a fast-casual concept that is expected to debut before July 2016, the company confirmed Wednesday.

Officials with the Lebanon, Tenn.-based full-service restaurant operator hinted at the new concept during an investor presentation last month, saying a fast-casual variation is part of an overall strategy to extend the brand.

Janella Escobar, a Cracker Barrel spokeswoman, confirmed Wednesday that the new concept is in the works, but she said the company has no details yet.

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The first restaurant or restaurants would open before the end of the next fiscal year, which ends in July 2016, she said.

“We believe, and third-party consumer research supports, that the Cracker Barrel brand is the most unique and differentiated brand in full-service dining, with high levels of customer loyalty and satisfaction,” Escobar said in a statement. “We expect our fast-casual concept to leverage the strength of our brand while providing a different type of guest experience.”

Last month, the Nashville Post reported that Chris Ciavarra, Cracker Barrel’s senior vice president of marketing, is leading the research and development team developing the new concept.

The move could open up a new world of real estate for Cracker Barrel, which has 634 units in 42 states, 80 percent of which are located on interstate highways.

Known for its homestyle comfort food and adjoining gift shops, Cracker Barrel has long appealed to travelers. About 40 percent of the chain’s customers are nonlocal. Restaurants average about $4.3 million in annual sales, including $3.4 million in restaurant sales and another $900,000 from the gift shop side.

Larry Hyatt, Cracker Barrel’s chief financial officer, said one of the company’s strategic priorities this year is extending the brand’s reach.

Later this year, Cracker Barrel expects to unveil a new, more efficient prototype “fusion” unit in Morganton, N.C., that will cut operating costs by about $200,000 annually.

Cracker Barrel joins a growing number of full-service players that have explored limited service.

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers has been growing its fast-casual Burger Works concept. Applebee’s and Red Lobster have tested “express” service options.

Other casual-dining chains have made strategic investments in noncompeting fast-casual concepts. For example, Buffalo Wild Wings has invested in the emerging brands PizzaRev and Rusty Taco.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

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