After decades as a buffet staple, Golden Corral is entering the fast-casual segment.
The new concept, called Homeward Kitchen, will debut in Southern Pines, North Carolina, in the fall. The store is designed with a small dining room and dine-in, takeout, and drive-thru channels.
In terms of menu, Homeward features comfort food entrées, salads, bowls, sandwiches, appetizers, desserts, and sides, similar to what the chain offers at its legacy sit-down locations. It’ll be a mixture of old and innovative, like the classic Slow-Cooked Pot Roast with Braised Vegetables, Golden Fried Shrimp, and Homestyle Mac and Cheese, and the new Cajun Mac & Cheese Bowl and Fried Buttermilk Chicken Sandwich served in Classic, Nashville Hot, Korean Style, and Honey Dipped flavors.
Golden Corral CEO Lance Trenary said Homeward Kitchen will cater to new customers and expand its existing guest base.
“We have a 100-year plan at Golden Corral, and since we just celebrated our 50th anniversary in business, we are only at halftime,” he said in a statement. “We see a lot of blue sky ahead of us for the Golden Corral brand and view Homeward Kitchen as a big part of that plan moving forward. We understand our greatest strengths, and we listen closely to our guests. That is what gives us great confidence in what we are developing in Homeward Kitchen.”
Golden Corral finished 2022 with 362 restaurants systemwide, a net gain of three. Across 2020 and 2021, the brand shut down a net of 124 stores.
The buffet still remains Golden Corral’s main growth strategy. In July 2022, the company unveiled a franchise incentive program for new and existing franchisees who open a store within 24 months of signing a development agreement. According to the deal, an operator would be eligible for cash rebates during its first three years, reimbursed training costs for three managers, and reimbursed marketing expenses.
Trenary hinted last year that Golden Corral was working on a 3,500-square-foot fast casual with a drive-thru. At the time, he described the menu as a “modern twist on comfort food.” The buffet chain hired design firms WD Partners and Profitality to work on the prototype.
“I think it gives us a new vehicle for growth that is not a buffet, but still closely related to Golden Corral,” Trenary told FSR in June 2022. “Enough that our most loyal customers will continue to eat with us and it’ll also attract our light or non-users because of the kind of offering that we’re going to create with it.”
Golden Corral joins several casual-dining brands opting for quick service. Others playing in the space include Buffalo Wild Wings, IHOP, Hooters, P.F. Chang’s, TGI Fridays, Friendly’s, and True Food Kitchen.