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Johnny Rockets retro burgers are being paired with Hurricane Grill & Wings’ sister brand, Hurricane Wings, inside a Holiday Inn location.

Multi-concept restaurant operators are all cobranding now — here’s why that’s smart

From BBQ Holdings to Focus Brands and Fat Brands, restaurant groups are realizing that cobranded stores can drive average checks

Fat Brands announced Tuesday the grand opening of the first cobranded Johnny Rockets location with Hurricane Wings in Washington, D.C., continuing the global franchising company’s strategy of building up its multi-brand store model that started in 2013 and accelerated earlier this year. Johnny Rockets retro burgers are being paired with Hurricane Grill & Wings’ sister brand, Hurricane Wings, inside a Holiday Inn location.

“Burgers and wings pair perfectly together, which we have witnessed firsthand at Fat Brands with the co-branding of Fatburger and Buffalo’s Express,” Jake Berchtold, COO of Fat Brands’ fast casual division, said in a statement. “The demand for that co-branded combination continues to remain high with over 100 locations to date worldwide, so we knew it was time to play into that menu synergy further with other burger and wing brands in our portfolio.”

Brand synergy is the modus operandi of large restaurant groups these days, many of which are leaning more into mix and match cobranding collaborations and rejecting siloed portfolios. Fat Brands CEO Andy Wiederhorn told Nation’s Restaurant News that the company currently has 225 cobranded restaurants, and those locations on average see a 20% increase in average unit volume as compared with traditional units.   

“It’s because of menu diversity,” Wiederhorn said. “When people decide where to eat, you don’t want to get a ‘no’ vote from someone that doesn’t want to eat that burger or chicken. […] Having a branded wings program drives more traffic than menu diversity. Fatburger had sold wings for years but now [a cobranded location] says Buffalo’s Express on the outside so your wings sales go up 20%. Customers might not have the menu diversity awareness to know to order wings otherwise.”

Although sister brands sharing a location is nothing new, companies are taking it to the next level with new off-premises-focused, tech-forward restaurant formats. Last year, Focus Brands opened the first Auntie Anne’s drive-thru cobranded with Jamba—simultaneously expanding their presence outside malls and driving home a multi-brand development strategy.

“You're taking two iconic brands, and you're increasing the average volume and the bottom-line profitability for franchisees because you've got two different consumer bases that you're bringing together,” Kristen Hartman, the category president for Focus Brands told Nation’s Restaurant News in a previous interview. “Your customer may come in one day for a healthy smoothie from Jamba, and then the next day they’ll want to satisfy that Auntie Anne’s craving.”

Since then, various combinations of Auntie Anne’s, Cinnabon, and Jamba have sprung up nationally, especially in airports and on college campuses.

Besides drive-thrus, cobranding is also being used in ghost kitchen hub and spoke models. Famous Dave’s parent company, BBQ Holdings, has been investing in dual branding throughout the pandemic. Over the past couple of years, the Minnetonka, Minn.-based barbecue chain has anchored its development plans in placing Famous Dave’s barbecue locations alongside the group’s newly acquired concepts.

Like Fat Brands, BBQ Holdings has been on an acquisition shopping spree over the past couple of years – testing out new brands by operating them out of a shared commissary kitchen as a ghost kitchen brand. Then, if they do well, they are graduated to operating as dual concepts alongside the company’s flagship, Famous Dave’s, like casual Italian chain, Johnny Carino’s, which has been cobranding with Famous Dave’s since late 2020.

In May of this year, BBQ Holdings opened a Village Inn inside a pre-existing Granite City Brewery location in Maple Grove, Minnesota, both of which are recent acquisitions for the company. In sharing the space, Village Inn will operate its daytime breakfast and lunch menu through midday, while Granite City will serve lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. through closing. This way, the dual-branded restaurant can cover more dayparts and attract a wider customer base.

Fat Brands has similarly cobranded its flagship concept, Fatburger, with virtual brands that could sell wings and hot dog menu items from the company's other concepts. Moving forward, Wiederhorn hopes to experiment with more cobranding combinations like Fatburger with Round Table Pizza and Hot Dog on a Stick with Johnny Rockets. Either way, Wiederhorn is confident the diversification of their portfolio will bump up franchisee sales.

“In our business, the franchisee is our customer—the person that pays us royalties,” Wiederhorn said. “So, anything we can do to make them more money is good for them and for us.”

Contact Joanna at [email protected]

Find her on Twitter: @JoannaFantozzi

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