Friendly’s, an 87-year-old family-dining chain, will debut a fast-casual spinoff next month, becoming yet another casual concept opting for quicker service and reliance on off-premises.
The store will be called Friendly’s Cafe, and will open in Westfield, Massachusetts. The 2,700-square-foot restaurant will have a designated to-go area inside for pickup orders and will keep four parking spots for curbside pickup. The dining room will seat 45 guests.
Upon entering the restaurant, customers may order directly at the counter or through a QR code at the table. Friendly’s Cafe is scheduled to open during the first week of February, and hold a grand opening celebration in March.
Friendly’s provided a sneak peak of the fast casual in October. CEO Craig Erlich said the company repositioned a restaurant in the Westfield community and found better use of real estate.
A number of full-service brands have opened fast-casual versions of themselves in an effort to improve ROI, create flexibility, and lean into the growth of off-premises. Some notable examples include Flip’d (IHOP), Hoots Wings (Hooters), Buffalo Wild Wings Go, P.F. Chang’s To Go, Fridays on the Fly (TGI Fridays), and bushi by JINYA (JINYA Ramen Bar).
The fast casual is a big part of Friendly’s overall turnaround strategy, which includes menu innovation, digital channels, local store marketing, ghost kitchens, and co-branding. The executive team received a boost, as well, with the onboarding of David Ellis as chief marketing officer, Sylvia Becker as vice president of marketing, and Roberto De Angelis as chief experience officer.
The classic chain once numbered 850 stores 30 years ago, but has since fallen to about 130. When Sun Capital Partners purchased the chain in 2007 for $337.2 million, there were 515 locations. Nearly three years ago, the brand operated 173 locations.
Friendly’s filed bankruptcy in November 2020, and was purchased for $2 million by Amici Partners Group, which is affiliated with Smoothie Factory and RedBrick Pizza parent BRIX Holdings.