BRAVO! Cucina Italiana has introduced a new concept at five of its eateries in Pittsburgh this year. The rebranding initiative introduces a host of new menu items, including many under 600 calories, updates and freshens interiors, and revitalizes the service style. Another 10 outlets of the chain’s 51 eateries in 22 states will be revamped in the coming year.

Brian O’Malley, CEO of Bravo Brio, describes it as a “comprehensive program that involves training, marketing, culinary, and construction design.”

The Columbus, Ohio–based chain Bravo Brio also owns 65 Brio Tuscan Grilles, though most of those are newer outlets and won’t be affected by the redesign. Together, the chains generated $108 million in revenue in 2015.

The average check at BRAVO! Cucina Italiana is $21.60, slightly above mid-priced competitors such as the $19 at Cheesecake Factory and $15 at Olive Garden, but lower than the $27 price at the more upscale Brio Tuscan Grille.

The rebranding campaign launched because comparable restaurant sales at Bravo Brio have stagnated for several years. Columbus Business First noted that its revenue in the last quarter of 2015 dipped 3.5 percent and marked 11 consecutive quarters of declining sales. Many of the Cucina Italiana units are located in malls, where customer traffic has waned in recent years.

When O’Malley was named CEO of Bravo Brio in December, he aimed to shake things up and try something new to reinvigorate the brand. Candidly, O’Malley says, “We needed to make a stand. Bravo Brio has played it safe, down the center of the fairway.” The brand’s typical customer was 50 years and older, but the new concept targets a younger audience aged 35 to 50.

O’Malley traveled to nine different cities to visit Cucina Italiana locations and met with 136 general managers and executive chefs to elicit their feedback, solicit their ideas, and develop a new strategy to attract a younger clientele. “We needed to find ways to become relevant with a younger audience,” he says.

The result was a total overhaul of the menu, introducing 18 entrées, and many low-calorie alternatives, which Millennials prefer. “Millennials are looking for things done their way. Guests can come in and request entrées done their way,” he adds. 

New items on the menu include appetizers, such as homemade warm ricotta marinated with red peppers, and entrées, such as lamb chops, braised pork, fresh seafood, and fresh pasta, instead of dry pasta. The new menu also accentuates meals that are “fresh, organic, and local,” O’Malley says, adding that many appetizers are shareable, which also appeals to Millennials.

Because Millennial are devotees of the Food Network and Travel Channel, they are hip to the latest food and beverage trends. Hence, local and regional craft beers will be introduced at the restaurants and the craft beer menu will vary in Columbus, Ohio, from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania.

Décor-wise, Cucina Italiana has added plastered walls, wood beams, and wood floors—inspired by Italian farmhouse kitchens—to create a warmer, more approachable café.

As for the dining experience, the front and the back of the house underwent training that emphasized the company’s new take on hospitality. “Our goal wasn’t to change the style, but instead to put the focus back on the details of service,” he notes. Paying at the table will also be offered.

When customers enter the revamped Cucina Italianas, they will see that everything has changed, “from flooring to walls to lighting, and the menu that you get handed will look and feel different,” O’Malley explains.

Average dinner prices will stay mostly the same, and O’Malley says the emphasis is on “more organic growth.” Limited-time offers, like an $11 special including soup or salad with chicken piccata, shrimp scampi, or chicken parmigiana, aims to drive sales.

By reinventing the brand from a menu perspective, O’Malley expects the brand will be bringing in a whole new demographic—the Millennials—on a consistent basis. “We’ll find growth in sales and traffic,” he says.

By Gary M. Stern

Casual Dining, Chain Restaurants, Industry News, Menu Innovations, Restaurant Design, BRAVO/BRIO Tuscan Grille, BRIO Tuscan Grille