Johnny Rockets Test Drives Food Trucks

Food trucks allow Johnny Rockets' international brand to offer franchise partners additional options to supplement their full-service restaurants.
Food trucks allow Johnny Rockets' international brand to offer franchise partners additional options to supplement their full-service restaurants. Johnny Rockets

Johnny Rockets is on the road. 

In April, the 30-year-old restaurant chain best known for its hamburgers and handspun milk shakes, started its first international food truck in La Serena, Chile. A month later, a second food truck hit the streets of Lagos, Nigeria.

According to Johnny Rockets president of global operations and development James Walker, the food trucks address a swelling number of inquiries from the company’s franchise partners about additional options to supplement their full-service restaurants. “This is absolutely about providing greater access to the brand,” Walker says. The plan, Walker explains, is for the food trucks to hit areas with high foot traffic as well as special events, such as festivals, sporting events, and other high-volume, limited-time gatherings. The trucks will also look to capitalize on catering and private function opportunities.

“The food truck is able to go where the guests are, providing additional access and a great opportunity to introduce the Johnny Rockets brand to many more people,” Walker says.

This is not, however, Johnny Rockets first foray into the food truck space. 

About eight years ago, just before the food truck movement hit its national peak, the California-based restaurant chain operated a mobile unit in the Washington, D.C., area that ran promotional events alongside the Washington Redskins NFL team. That experience produced mixed results. “People were lining up and excited to find Johnny Rockets in a new venue, but the demand overwhelmed the truck and we couldn’t keep up,” Walker says.

In response, Johnny Rockets tabled its food truck efforts until work on an unrelated project spurred leadership to reinvestigate the potential of mobile units. Three years ago, the company began developing a high-efficiency kitchen for its brick-and-mortar restaurants in an effort to decrease cooking times and increase throughput. Through that endeavor, they discovered the same high-efficiency kitchen could exist in a mobile unit, thereby resolving the inefficiencies.

“Now we can launch a Johnny Rockets food truck with aggressive production capacity,” Walker says.

Among the chain’s U.S. franchising base, Walker reports strong interest in food trucks and says the company continues talking with its existing partners. The chain currently has 200 restaurants in the U.S., about 90 percent of which are franchised units.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we announce a domestic program soon,” Walker says. For Johnny Rockets, which made news earlier this year with the debut of a new restaurant design that replaced the brand’s 1950s diner theme with a more contemporary look, Walker sees a more robust food truck program testing and exciting new markets as a compelling piece of the company’s global development strategy. He says franchisees in the U.S. and abroad, where Johnny Rockets has some 150 units across more than two-dozen countries, are intrigued by a truck’s prospects to drive additional revenue and provide access to the community beyond the restaurant’s four walls.

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