Colosi didn’t guarantee it, but said 2021 could, hopefully, be the year Texas Roadhouse steps on the gas with Bubba’s 33’s. “We’re just trying to be patient and disciplined and not trying to grow faster than what we should,” he said. “And I can tell you, internally, everybody’s dying to grow the concept faster.”
They are committed to growing restaurants closer together, Colosi added. You could see more around Houston, Pasadena, Tampa, and Charlotte.
One setback right now is recent openings, however. Again, like Texas Roadhouse, Bubba’s 33 isn’t lighting sales on fire from day one. In the last couple of years, Colosi said, the company opened nine locations and “a number of those” haven’t started out with robust sales. They’re solid. Just not enough to inspire Texas Roadhouse to think, “hey, let’s go build a bunch more Bubba’s,” Colosi said. And that comes from a really high bar set by an organization that’s restaurants push $5.2 million in average-unit volumes.
“I say that because some of that's comparing to Roadhouse, which is just a whole another world,” Colosi said. “Compared to most sports restaurants or sports bars, the sales that we’re opening with are actually pretty darn good.”
Texas Roadhouse will ramp up Bubba’s 33 expansion when it feels it’s firing on all cylinders. “But in comparison to what we know we can do, vis-à-vis Roadhouse, and what it's causing us to get these Bubba's open from a return on investment perspective, we want to be doing more,” Colosi said.
Bubba’s 33, with its TV-lined walls, neon signs, and other local flair, aren’t cheap to bring to market. The prototype—still a work in progress—ranges between 7,200–7,600 square feet and seats roughly 270 guests. That’s comparable to a Texas Roadhouse, which measures between 7,200–7,500 and holds 58–68 tables for 270–230 customers, plus 18 or so bar seats.
Here’s the kicker, though. The average capital investment for a Texas Roadhouse restaurant opened over the past three years was $5.2 million, $5.3 million, and $5 million, respectively. In 2019, the company expects the figure to rise to $5.5 million due to land purchases and related site improvement costs.
A Bubba’s 33, meanwhile, required a capital investment in 2018, 2017, and 2016 of $7.1 million, $6.1 million, and $6.5 million. The latest figure was inflated by an urban site in New Jersey. Moving forward, the company expects the average to sit around $6.5 million.
This is a key reason the company is still evaluating Bubba’s 33’s prototypical asset design. A smaller restaurant has been in development for some time but hasn’t debuted yet.
Even with inconsistent openings, Colosi said, Bubba’s 33 enjoyed sales momentum in the past year. Every restaurant is cash flow positive. The brand is just trying to decipher why some stores are doing better than others.