In recent weeks Bar Louie has seen its traffic slow because of inflationary pricing, but not in the double digits. Wright attributes it to the fact that Bar Louie gives customers an experiential place for friends/family to gather, as opposed to simply offering a dining out occasion.
“We're clearly a brand, there's no doubt across 20 states, but at the end of the day, we want to feel like your community bar and your community-gathering space,” Wright says. “And even a lot of our locations, which is part of our strategy going forward, you'll find murals that tie it to that location or some of the surrounding area that makes it feel like it's your local Bar Louis. I think that's one of the things that has helped us through even these challenging times here as of recent is, sometimes people just shake off the stresses of the day or the time and they love to just go out and go to that getaway for a few moments.”
Wright entered Bar Louie with more than 35 years of experience, including past stops as CEO of Tijuana Flats and Bertucci’s, COO of Au Bon Pain, president of Chevys Fresh Mex Restaurants, senior vice president of operations for Einstein Bros Bagels, and vice president of operations for Boston Market. In those decades of leadership, he first and foremost learned the value of building people and culture, and Bar Louie holds the same priority. In January, the chain announced a new General Manager Benefits Program in which leaders are eligible for a three-week sabbatical every three years, continuing educational support, an annual vacation subsidy, and a $500 quarterly wellness allowance.
The executive also wants to work on redesigning layouts and aesthetics. In December 2021, Bar Louie revealed an enhanced prototype in Denver, with new colors, lighting, booths, tables, chairs, and barstools, renovated bathrooms, a takeout/delivery station, and upgraded kitchen equipment. To incorporate a neighborhood feel, the restaurant enlisted famous Denver muralist Randy Segura to paint a floor-to-ceiling art piece.
Wright is concerned with evolving and modernization because he knows franchisees are, as well. Many operators are already inquiring about growth plans—both existing and prospective.
“We have a number of people who have purchased nicer hotels and are wanting Bar Louis to be the concept tied to it,” Wright says. “In addition to that, we're getting calls from a number of airports where they would like to have a Bar Louis in their airports. So not only just that traditional piece of real estate on the corner of main and main, but all of these different nontraditional types of growth patterns or growth opportunities. It was a very pleasant surprise. Not that I didn't think people were attracted to the brand, I just didn't know that many people were knocking on our door, so that was exciting.”
Wright says Bar Louie is still “knee deep in the overall architecture of the plan,” but he would like to see new stores starting in the mid-to-late part of 2023, and acceleration from there. The company is setting up meetings with design firms and looking at several ways the chain could look in the future.
“I just think the way that Bar Louie has embraced the culture of bar first with an amazing food menu slightly behind that, I think it's a unique position for this brand, and I think it's one of the things that allows it to succeed for the future," Wright says.