Special Report

2010 QSR 50

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Chipotle

Chipotle

21About every fourth Chipotle restaurant this year will feature the new A Model format, designed specifically for Tier 2 trade areas. Translation: It’s going after not-so-perfect sites with a smaller, lower-cost prototype. That thrust will lower the average cost per restaurant to $800,000 from $900,000. Meanwhile, the burrito specialist is investigating in an expansion of its sales day by testing breakfast, starting with an airport location.

Carl’s Jr.

22Carl’s Jr. hasn’t abandoned its strategy of promising better quality at prices still typical of fast food. But it remains to be seen if the chain’s new owner is going to stay that course when even fraternal-twin Hardee’s is doing better with the traditional value approach. There were a few detours even before the sale, including a discount for a Six Dollar Burger—once the epitome of Carl’s strategy.

Panda Express

23Panda Express apparently didn’t get the memo. With the drop in shopping, particularly in the chain’s home market of California, the standard corporate directive was to focus marketing on inexpensive products.

So what’d mall-concentrated Panda do? Tout its first shrimp dish and a premium chicken entrée. It also adopted a mobile ordering service, promising to save patrons time, not necessarily money. Results apparently left it content to stay off the routing slip.

Whataburger

24Whataburger is kicking up its new product development, hoping to woo economizing customers with cookies and milk and chicken sandwiches. With units concentrated in Texas, one of the states hit worst by the recession, the venerable chain also tried several limited-time steals, including its signature taquitos offered at nearly half price.

Little Caesars

25The Detroit Tigers haven’t reigned as champs in their league for a while, but Motown-based Little Caesars can do some serious trash talking. In a segment marked by discounting, owner Michael Ilitch pinned its offense on the Hot-N-Ready, a 14-inch carryout pie priced at $4.99. Make that $3.99 during a promotion. Offering pies at half Pizza Hut’s price earned Caesars a third Best Value in America award. Dynasty, baby.

Church’s Chicken

Church’s Chicken

26After last year’s sale to a private equity firm, there’s been nary a peep from Church’s Chicken, an about-face from the crowing of prior years. The new owner, Friedman Fleischer & Lowe, installed one of its own, Mel Deane, as CEO and rounded out the senior team with industry vets like CMO Tony Lavely, an alumnus of chains ranging from Domino’s to Ruth’s Chris. Along the way Church’s bought and converted 23 Mrs. Winner’s units.

Steak ‘n Shake

27The increasingly secretive Steak ‘n Shake granted shareholders a peek this spring at its new prototype, a smaller, less-expensive building that should assist the chain’s franchising efforts. According to one account, the new building measures 3,200 square feet, compared with the earlier standard of 4,200 square feet, and costs $1.5 million to build, a savings of about one-third. The exterior will largely be glass, allowing passers-by to peer into the kitchen.

Zaxby’s

Zaxby’s

28Despite the recession, the chicken-fingers specialist invested in an online training system for managers, helped stores build individualized consumer Web pages, and kept pressing a program to cut drive-thru serving times. Along the way Zaxby’s opened 30 stores, a head-turning clip by Great Recession standards, and kept in step with the quick-serve segment’s new product binge. It even held the line on prices.

Long John Silver’s

29During a conference call with analysts, officials of Yum! Brands were asked if they’d lost interest in Long John Silver’s and were thinking of selling it. Not at all, CEO David Novak said. Sure, the company was focusing on its powerhouses, but Yum had every intention of strengthening the seafood chain and pairing it with Yum siblings where warranted. Meanwhile, the chain continues to explore new waters with products like a $1 fish taco.

Checkers

30While most chains were pulling over to wait out the recession, the drive-thru specialist doubled its expansion pace last year, opening some 40 outlets. Most were fill-ins within markets already served by a franchisee, according to the home office. Now, with two Dunkin’ Donuts vets on the franchising team, headquarters may be pressing the gas pedal a little harder.

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