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Nearly one year after announcing the initial partnership, sushi is now available for dine-in at 17 TGI Fridays locations, in addition to traditional ghost kitchen availability through third-party delivery.

TGI Fridays CEO Ray Blanchette on finding success with a virtual sushi brand

After announcing its partnership with C3’s Krispy Rice, Friday’s began selling sushi both online and in restaurants, and the category is a huge hit with customers

It might sound like an unusual brand partnership, but TGI Fridays parent company, TriArtisan Capital, has found success in partnering with C3 virtual brand, Krispy Rice from restaurateur Sam Nazarian. Nearly one year after announcing the initial partnership, sushi is now available for dine-in at 17 Fridays locations, in addition to traditional ghost kitchen availability through third-party delivery.

This surprising match made in heaven has brought in a new younger customer base, invigorated kitchen staff engagement and boosted overall revenue for Fridays as the company enters the post-pandemic world, Fridays CEO Ray Blanchette told Nation’s Restaurant News.

“We’re finding that the virtual restaurant revenue is completely incremental,” Blanchette said. “These are new guests to TGI Fridays, so [the C3 partnership] is delivering at or above what we thought were really high expectations. […] We see a systemwide opportunity too with possible revenues north of $100 million. This is going to have a very meaningful impact for us.”

The TriArtisan Capital $10 million investment in C3 (Creating Culinary Communities) was first announced in August 2021, and was originally envisioned as an opportunity to “expand kitchen utilization capacity” for a commissary-like ghost kitchen experience that would create additional revenue for TriAritsan Capital brands like TGI Fridays.

Like many ghost kitchen partnerships that are true to their name, when customers order C3’s Krispy Rice sushi online, they likely have no idea it’s coming from a TGI Fridays kitchen. But now that you can find Krispy Rice-branded rolls and bento boxes on the menu at several TGI Fridays in person, the new menu category is out in the open for people to intentionally try and spread the word.

“The offerings we have inside TGI Fridays will help the brand feel more relevant and appeal to a broader customer base over time,” Blanchette said. Casual dining is a high-frequency category and people are coming in and might change their behavior over time, as opposed to the delivery-only space which just has Krispy Rice packaging and no connection to TGI Fridays.”

When customers order a sushi roll from Krispy Rice as operated by TGI Fridays on DoorDash or Uber Eats, about 80% of the menu is available to choose from, but in-person the menu is more pared-down to a few favorite bento boxes and rolls. According to TriArtisan, now more than one-quarter of total Krispy Rice sales come from dine-in guests at TGI Fridays. Now, Fridays is adding another C3 brand to the mix — Kumi Tacos, which was just launched last year and is known for nori tacos and burritos with fried seaweed shells and filled with fresh fish and rice.

“We’re looking for their brand to be a third-party endorsement of our ability to do sushi right, so we absolutely talk about Krispy Rice in our restaurants,” he said.

Part of bolstering that credibility factor is being able to train staff correctly. One of the most surprising benefits to the investment in C3 has been the positive impact on kitchen staff who were trained to roll sushi correctly by C3 staff, Blanchette said. Now when they return to their stations at TGI Fridays they take pride in their new skills and want customers to try out the expanded sushi options.

Moving forward, Blanchette said he expects to expand their partnership with C3 to include more of the 40+ C3 brands but off-premises and inside their restaurants, though they want to do it carefully without overwhelming staff or risking a decrease in core brand performance. During the pandemic, TGI Fridays also launched its own virtual brand, Conviction Chicken, which is still successful today.

“We're looking at our restaurants now as manufacturing facilities,” Blanchette said. “[…] The pandemic informed us that we can do a lot more than we're currently doing. […] A lot of the brands that were just created in response to pandemic conditions will likely go away. But the real brands out there like Krispy Rice have a big draw and they will continue to grow and build brand awareness.”

Contact Joanna Fantozzi at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @JoannaFantozzi

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