Colorful dishes like this salmon strawberry spinach salad are a staple of cheddar's signature scratch-made cooking.

Rebranding Reinvigorates Cheddar’s Casual Café

When Aubrey Good and Doug Rogers opened the first Cheddar’s Casual Café in 1979, they never considered serving guests anything but scratch-made meals. For the past 37 years, the brand has prioritized preparing dishes the “right way,” versus the “easy way.”

But when Cheddar’s leadership began surveying guests this past year, the team quickly realized it was missing a huge marketing opportunity: Many consumers had no idea they were eating scratch-made meals.

“We started to talk to our guests and consumers, and they were surprised,” says Cheddar’s president and CEO Ian Baines, who has 15 years of experience as a fine-dining chef. Guests reported visiting Cheddar’s because they love the food. They had no idea, however, that cooks begin working at 6 a.m. to prep slow-cooked meats, freshly baked pies, and more. In light of the discovery, Cheddar’s rebranded on July 1 with a name that lays claim to its intent: Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen.

“It’s an opportunity to reiterate what we’ve always been,” Baines says of the revised name, which now graces the 96 company-owned and 67 franchised locations. And that signage forces the casual café to stay true to its mission: “When you put Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen on all of your buildings, there’s no going back.” The revised Cheddar’s branding scheme is a positive point of differentiation for the brand and will likely placate millennials, which is important to Baines. “Millennials are very demanding in a good way,” he says. The food-conscious generation pushes the entire restaurant market to employ respectable food sourcing and preparation practices. Cheddar’s’ modified brand name exemplifies these millennial preferences.

As the rebranding process continues, Baines looks forward to growing the Cheddar’s brand more qualitatively versus quantitatively. “For us, it’s less about growing the numbers of locations,” Baines says. “It’s more about growing our people.” Through a robust training program, Cheddar’s offers staff members the opportunity to move upward, rather than hiring all new leaders from outside the company’s walls. “I just feel fortunate to be involved in guiding [Cheddar’s] through this next part of its journey,” Baines says.