Noodles & Company has introduced its first baked entrée, Chicken Parmesan, just as it said it would in its most recent earnings call. It’s made with penne pasta, marinara sauce and chicken breast in a Parmesan crust topped with melted mozzarella cheese and garnished with parsley.
The new item was made available on Wednesday to Noodles Rewards loyalty program members and will be available to all customers starting Sept. 20.
In the earnings call, in which the Broomfield, Colo.-based fast-casual chain reported a decline in sales in the aftermath of price hikes, CEO Dave Boennighausen said the new entrée has broad appeal and familiarity, and that he was excited “to provide a casual-dining favorite at a fast-casual price point and speed.”
The entrée sells for $10.95.
In a press release announcing the new menu item, Noodles’ vice president of culinary and executive chef Nick Graff said, “Innovation is at the core of everything we do at Noodles & Company and we’re proud to bring a fresh, uncommonly good perspective to a beloved pasta dish. We’ve been serving made-to-order pastas from around the world since we opened our doors nearly 30 years ago, however, this is the first time we’ve offered our guests a baked entrée.”
The 465-unit chain has introduced a number of new categories of menu items in recent years, including stuffed pastas in the form of tortelloni, which it launched in 2021, and which Boennighausen credited with boosting sales. At the time he said the tortelloni had outperformed all other tests introduced since he joined the chain, which he did as chief financial officer in 2004.
Boennighausen had credited earlier innovations, specifically the 2018 rollout of zucchini noodles, or “zoodles,” with turning the chain around. He also said the lower-carbohydrate LEANguini, introduced in 2021, had helped restaurant performance, which had been improving in terms of sales, margins, and average unit volume until the most recent quarter.
Those new items were extensions of the chain’s core brand positioning, which is pasta. And while the new chicken Parm is accompanied by pasta, it does arguably stray from the brand’s noodle-centric dishes, including its most popular category of mac & cheese.
Attempts at straying into new categories such as sandwiches, which it did in 2010, had backfired. The chain ultimately dropped sandwiches from its menu.
In the most recent quarter, ended July 4, 2023, Noodles & Company reported a net loss of $1.3 million as revenue decreased by 4.5% and same-store sales fell by 5.5%. That’s in contrast to the previous quarter, when revenue rose by 12% compared to a year earlier and same-store sales were up by 6.4%.
Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected]