Although sales are on a positive trajectory, the pandemic did its damage on systemwide footprint. Across 2020 and 2021, Golden Corral closed a net of 124 restaurants, according to its FDD. But the situation appears to be turning around, with a “substantial number” of existing franchisees reinvesting in the brand, Trenary says.
One franchisee in Orlando is closing two of his highest-volume units and rebuilding one at the same site on International Drive and relocating another across the street. For operators at the sunset of their careers and ready to retire—a process accelerated by the pandemic—newer franchisees are picking up those locations and implementing remodels. Stores with Golden Corral’s Gateway redesign are seeing anywhere between 50–100 percent sales increases over 2019. The chain recently reopened locations in Greenwood, Indiana, and Ashland, Kentucky that are averaging $130,000–$160,000 in average weekly sales and maintaining those volumes, after doing $60,000–$70,000 prior to COVID.
Interest isn’t just coming from current franchisees either. Trenary says that for the past few months, his team has fielded several calls from new entities that saw what happened with the buffet segment and realize Golden Corral is the only one with a national footprint to really survive. As of now, there are five operators in various stages of signing up for new growth.
“What that tells us is that even during the toughest of times, we treated people the right way,” Trenary says. “We did things the right way and with integrity and full transparency of what the future held, and consequently we've been recognized as that. So those kind of things, along with the Gold Plate, did not hurt. We've actually had a lot of calls since then saying, 'hey, it's unbelievable what your company has accomplished and we want to be a part of it.'”
The CEO isn’t naïve when it comes to expansion. He knows there’s still a question mark around buffets, especially with inflation and labor shortages juxtaposed against how many products and staff Golden Corral restaurants require. So to make its franchise package more enticing, the brand is offering a new incentive that essentially provides cash back on food and labor costs on a monthly basis for up to three years.
“We’re saying, look we have great confidence in our brand, we have a 100-year plan,” Trenary says. “So it's not about how much money we make this year, it's about us being in business for 100 years, and so we want you to partner with us and we're going to put our money where our mouth is. We're going to take the unknowns or the uncertainty of the effects of inflation and workforce and the negative effect those potentially might have on a new entities’ P&L. We're going to take those off the table and give you the ability to establish your business and get to know our company and to see that this really is an incredible going concern.”