Amid that restructuring process, one of the more notable shifts was Village Inn’s refranchising strategy. Franchisees bought more than 30 company-run units, putting the current count at 121 franchised stores and 14 corporate locations. The point of the move was to put the brand into the hands of second and third generation operators and engage them with brand advisory councils focused on operations, marketing, and remodels. Village Inn also started new virtual concept Village Bowls, which sells a variety of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and yogurt bowls.
The upgrades proved fruitful during the pandemic.
“As we came through COVID, what we saw was that most of the brands, and particularly Village Inn, tracked really closely with the other mid-scale family competitors,” Barber says. “So we knew that while everybody was struggling with the restrictions on feeding and 6-foot distances and all of those elements, the brands were staying in the game and were showing good strength and came through with some really good numbers through the early part of this year, and particularly of late.”
In terms of how Village Inn and Bakers Square fits into BBQ Holdings’ growth plans, Crivello believes the chains would be a good bolt-on for franchisees. He notes that many Famous Dave’s operators oversee a host of other brands like Applebee’s, Popeye’s, and Panda Express. They’re always looking to add to their portfolio, and Crivello says it’s much easier to work with one team for multiple brands instead of multiple teams for each brand.
BBQ Holdings also has different avenues of growth. In addition to the typical brick-and-mortar stores, the company expects to open 15 ghost kitchens this year. Crivello explains that if there’s enough demand for those ghost kitchens, they could develop into dual concept restaurants.
BBQ Holdings entered a 25-unit development agreement in October 2020 with Bluestone Hospitality Group to open Famous Dave’s ghost kitchens and dual restaurant concepts with Italian chain Johnny Carino’s. Additionally, Famous Dave’s and Texas T-Bone Steakhouse opened a dual-branded store in Colorado Springs, growing sales roughly 100 percent. Famous Dave’s and Cowboy Jack’s steakhouse started a similar venture in Woodbury, Minnesota. BBQ Holdings also noted the most productive Famous Dave’s ghost kitchens inside Granite City stores will evolve into dual concepts.
The reason for the dual concepts and ghost kitchens is that Famous Dave’s 6,500-square-foot layout is designed to attract higher AUVs than its current $2.7 million. The same is true for Granite City, which is around 10,000 square feet and should be obtaining $6 million in AUV.