It rounds out perfectly with the other two burger brands we have—Fatburger and Elevation Burger,” Wiederhorn explains. “With Elevation Burger being a little more healthier, organic, grass-fed, and Johnny Rockets being a themed brand, so in certain venues it works really well with the themed diner look and feel. And then Fatburger being a little more urban. So it gives us the opportunity to visit with the landlord and figure out the right brand for their location or their venue for burgers. Very excited about it.”
At the beginning of the year, Johnny Rockets CEO George Michel, who is no longer with the company (Wiederhorn serves as CEO), said the brand wanted to direct its focus to nontraditional spaces such as casinos, theme parks, airports, and cruise ships.
The industry has changed much since then, with nontraditional units suffering because of closures and lack of traffic. Wiederhorn insists these are only temporary closures for Johnny Rockets. He says FAT Brands isn’t going to be afraid of special venues, whether it is a mall or an amusement park.
However, the company will make sure those restaurants are equipped to facilitate delivery and takeaway. Wiederhorn explains that Johnny Rockets will also explore ghost kitchens, an option that has gained much traction since COVID struck in March. In fact, FAT Brands opened its first-ever ghost kitchen in Chicago back in April. The company has a deal with Epic Kitchens to open 20 ghost kitchens across major metro areas in the next two years.
“Not every restaurant is designed at the time it’s built to have the ability to do delivery and off-premise, so I think we want to be mindful of that,” Wiederhorn says. “Everybody should be mindful of that—how do you do delivery out of your restaurant, how do you do to-go business out of your restaurant, in case something happens again? Nobody’s expecting this thing to ever happen again, but still doesn’t mean you don’t get the benefit of those sales.”
Johnny Rockets won’t be the final restaurant to join the FAT Brands family. Wiederhorn says the company is “absolutely inquisitive these days” and sees additional acquisitions in upcoming quarters. FAT Brands is considering a number of transactions right now within the spectrum of quick-service restaurants, fast casual, and casual.
For Johnny Rockets specifically, the immediate goal is to integrate the restaurant into FAT Brand’s platform over the next 90 days in areas such as marketing, operations, and back-of-office functions.
The brand will undergo a full evaluation, so the growth process can begin quickly—a process that the CEO says could result in Johnny Rockets increasing to 500 or 600 units in the next handful years.
“There’s just tremendous opportunity to grow in the markets because there’s such brand awareness,” Wiederhorn says. “It’s very flexible in terms of how you adapt it to a venue, so I think that’s going to continue to be a big opportunity.”