Johnny Rockets unveiled Monday a new Route 66-inspired prototype with four formats: a drive-thru, a drive-in, a food truck and a movie theater pop-up.
The new concept by the Americana-themed casual-dining operator will be called Johnny Rockets Route 66, evoking one of the original highways in the U.S. that opened migration to the West.
“Route 66 is part of America,” said James Walker, chief development officer of the Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based operator. “It’s part of our car culture. It’s fun. It’s kitschy. And it has a worldwide recognizable logo.”
The multiple formats are designed to spark domestic growth by offering franchisees a variety of opportunities.
“This is an accretive program to accelerate domestic expansion,” Walker said. “It’s not about stopping and retooling. It’s about having more demand than we can service through our current venue.”
The primary format, which is expected to debut late in the fourth quarter this year or in early 2015, will be a drive-thru restaurant ideally suited to high-volume, regional travel plazas off busy highways, Walker said.
The menu will be positioned as fast casual, with a core lineup of burgers, shakes and fries, but streamlined and designed to be produced much faster than in traditional Johnny Rockets restaurants, which typically have table service.
While burger chains with drive-thru windows are usually considered quick service, Walker said Route 66 aims to break the mold by improving the experience for guests both inside the restaurant and those who stay in their cars.
The restaurant will likely use self-managed kiosks for ordering inside at the counter and outside in the drive-thru line.
Guests who download the concept’s forthcoming mobile app will be recognized as they drive up. They can use their smartphones to order or place an order through the kiosk, where a staffer will interact live with customers on a video screen.
Walker said the chain is exploring a mobile payment option or an application like Apple Pay, though that has yet to be determined.
After placing their order, guests will approach a pick-up window, where video monitors along the wall will offer entertainment similar to the dancing servers who wait on dine-in customers. Guests can opt to watch their meal being prepared on the video screen.
“The pick-up window itself will also be larger and lower so you’re face to face with someone,” Walker said. “They’re not standing over you looking down.”
Partnership with USA Drive-Ins
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Inside Route 66, the kitchen will be markedly different than traditional formats, with equipment to allow for burgers to be made fresh to order with the speed of a fast-casual operation.
The drive-thru units will also offer breakfast, lunch and dinner to serve hungry customers on the road at all hours. Most traditional Johnny Rockets only serve lunch and dinner, though some airport locations also offer breakfast.
In a second variation on the Route 66 concept, Johnny Rockets has partnered with USA Drive-Ins LLC, a company that plans to open 200 new drive-in movie theaters across the country. In those drive-ins, a small-format Johnny Rockets Route 66 will serve as the food-and-beverage provider.
“It’ll be a concession-stand-plus,” said Walker. “You can get a candy bar and popcorn, but also chili cheese fries. It’s not unusual for drive-in customers to show up two hours in advance, so it becomes more of a tailgating experience.”
USA Drive-Ins is also looking to develop the theaters with high-tech elements compatible with smartphones, said Walker. Guests may be able to order and pay for food using their smartphones and have their meal delivered to the car via golf cart.
A third format will include a Johnny Rockets food truck, which could be used for catering, said Walker.
Combined with that is the option of a pop-up theater, also in cooperation with USA Drive-Ins, consisting of a mobile movie theater that can be set up for parties or community events. The Johnny Rockets food truck would serve as the food-and-beverage component, offering a dinner-and-a-movie catering option.
Walker said the chain plans to survey consumer to get more feedback on the proposed prototypes.
Meanwhile, Johnny Rockets’ original concept will continue to grow, Walker said. The company plans to open 15 to 17 domestic locations this year in the casual-dining model.
Last year, Johnny Rockets was acquired by an affiliate of private-equity firm Sun Capital Partners Inc., a group known for investing in brands with turnaround potential. At the time, company officials said Sun Capital was interested in Johnny Rockets for its growth prospects.
Johnny Rockets has about 320 restaurants worldwide, about two-thirds of which are in the U.S. The company operates restaurants in 28 countries and has been pushing growth overseas.
According to NRN’s annual Top 200 census, Johnny Rockets ended fiscal 2013 with U.S. systemwide sales of $193.8 million, a 2.1-percent increase over $191.7 million the prior year.
Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected]
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