Mangiamele says he’s also working on a "Steak & Ale Classic" concept that would, like Bennigan’s fast casual offshoot, represent a smaller footprint version of the original, which today doesn’t have any locations. Bennigan’s has brought some of Steak & Ale’s menu items into its mix, but the iconic venue has yet to resurrect as a brick-and-mortar. All remaining units shuttered as part of a Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding in late July 2008 (the same was true of non-franchised Bennigan’s).
Steak & Ale Classic would bring the investment down for operators as well, which Mangiamele says will be on the minds of franchisees for the foreseeable future given elevated supply and labor costs.
“Adapt, improvise, overcome,” he says. “… Not create what so many brands you’ve seen do—create a new brand and by the time you market and advertise and try to get people to recognize it’s a spinoff but called something different from the core brand, again, I think it’s an exercise in futility. Why not capitalize on the brand awareness you already have?”
Steak & Ale and its dimly lit, Tudor-style decorated dining rooms, grew as large as 280 locations in the 1980s. Mangiamele says he’s been a “little stubborn” over the years guarding its perception and historic touchpoints, like the salad bar. “You don’t want to lose that beautiful image in people’s minds,” he says, “and that emotional connection.”
“I’ve been very deliberate, and, hopefully, intelligent about it because it’s a franchise concept,” Mangiamele adds. “I’ve got to be really careful about who I choose and the location that we choose about the first one, because you just can’t get it wrong. But now, I wanted to adapt and offer Steak & Ale Classic, where I still get that and can be smart in terms of the competitive landscape.”
It adds another “arrow to the Legendary Restaurant Brands quiver,” he says. And it reflects what’s in motion more broadly. Mangiamele is an adamant believer in not changing what got you to the ball. However, there are opportunities at this pandemic-bounce back juncture to think outside the old parameters of what it meant to run a restaurant.
“We have a Steak & Ale following. There’s over 60, 65,000 raving fans who have been guests or actually team members of Steak & Ale, and they want it back, and they want it back right now,” he says. “I think they forgot how hard it is. It’s not an easy thing to do. I’m a stickler for the details. I’m a stickler for staying true to the look and the feel and the ambiance that we can create … But it’s a winner wherever we go.”
Mangiamele tells a story about a unit that closed in New Jersey. The son of the operator wrote him a letter when he announced plans to reinvigorate Steak & Ale in the future. When the first one opens, Mangiamele says, she’ll cut the ribbon. “That’s part and parcel of why my wife and I bought these brands,” he says. “I had so many people saying, ‘are you crazy? You’re going to put your money into these dead brands? The Walking Dead? Zombie brands? And I still say it to this day, the naysayers in this world pale in comparison to the deep and rich culture that these brands represent.”
As difficult as these last couple of years have been, Mangiamele says he’s noticed a settling of some volatile trends. The price of proteins is coming down. Supply is stocking back. And the restaurant field itself continues to favor brands with dry powder ready to capitalize, whether that’s second-gen space, soaring grocery prices, or pent-up demand. “Particularly in full service, I see the bar business becoming very robust,” he says. “People want to socialize and they’ve missed that for two-and-half years. That, coupled with this great movie coming out, spells a lot of success for Bennigan’s and Steak & Ale.”