Web Exclusive | July 2017 | By Danny Klein

Revamping a Fast Casual Sandwich Chain

With a new look and service model in tow, Lennys Grill & Subs is positioned for expansive growth.
Lennys hopes to double its footprint in the next five years. Lenny's Grill & Subs
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Standing in the dining room of Lennys Grill & Subs, president and CEO Kevin Martin felt like he was witnessing a food auction. Names and ticket numbers were hollered out. Customers stood at their guard, alert and ready.

“It just wasn’t the environment that we were shooting for,” he says. “We want an environment where you can enjoy a conversation with somebody and not be distracted by that.”

To date, Lennys has 57 active remodeling projects taking place in its 95-unit system. Some are being constructed, several are being evaluated, and a select number are completed. Forty-five additional stores are in the pipeline for 2018, which would, if all goes accordingly, complete Lennys system-wide reimaging campaign—a conversation that started in 2015 when the Memphis-based chain announced it was targeting broader goals.

Founded in 1998, Lennys built a strong base in the quick-lunch daypart. But new leadership saw that distinction as shortsighted. Martin and Rick Johnson purchased the brand in 2012 and started to widen the lens.

For Martin, a key factor in this refresh was perception. Firstly, in 2016, Lennys Subs became Lennys Grill & Subs. Martin says the chain has a “world-class Philly Cheesesteak” and 12 grilled items on its menu that separate Lennys from sandwich competitors.

“About 7—10 percent of our guests in any given week, in any given restaurant, are new to the brand,” Martin says. “So we really felt it was important given that our No. 1 selling sandwich is grilled, and given that a large number of guests coming through the door are new to the brand, that we needed to get the word grill in the name.”

Lennys also switched up the color scheme, adding some yellows, gold, cool grays, reds, and blues instead of muted beiges and taupe. The brand updated its graphic representations and packages on the wall, all in an effort to brighten up the environment.

At the center of this transformation, however, is the service model itself. A customer pays, grabs a number, and goes to their table, a la Panera Bread. It seems relatively straightforward, but adding numbers and table delivery can trigger a series of positive events, Martin says.

“It will increase or improve our guest experience for sure. It will also increase our speed of service. Because it will give people a chance to go sit down and we will be more efficient in how we get your food delivered to you,” Martin says.

To get here, Lennys is ditching the deli case that has represented the order point in the past. Instead, a counter top with a point-of-sale-system will take its place.

Again, simple but infinitely better, Martin says. An added bonus being that the guest won’t get lost in the make-line now. Before, the idea of where to go, where to stand when it was finished, especially if you ordered a grilled sub, wasn’t clear.

“You may not have know what to do if you’ve never been there,” Martin says. “Whereas if we take your order all up front and we take your cash or credit card and you can go sit down, there’s no miscommunication or misunderstanding. It makes it really easy.”

The line to pick up food, outside of those guests waiting for to-go orders, is also eliminated. The dual-line approach that stuffed up stores is gone.

This change will also help Lennys deliver on its tagline, “Everybody Deserves Great Food,” Martin says.

The extra time will provide employees a chance to add table touches. As they bring food to a guest, they can ask things like, “How was your food prepared today? Is everything to your liking?”

“It creates an engagement opportunity,” Martin says. “It improves the environment from just the way it sounds and it provides an opportunity to do more pro-active guest engagement rather than the reactive nature of trying to get somebody to hear their name or get their ticket called.”

And Martin also believes the experience will encourage guests to stick around, and perhaps come in for dinner more often. In general, he believes diners are more likely to eat in the store if the food is hot, which it often is at Lennys.

“We think it’s a little bit of a combination. Delivering that table-service experience feels a little bit more fast casual,” he says. “And then additionally by getting grill in the name we emphasize to folks, hey they’re hot food here.”

Martin says franchisees are diving into Lennys modernization, and expansive growth is definitely back on the table. The chain had 166 stores in 2008 before retracting. Early in the year, Lennys brought in Jennifer Benjamin as vice president of franchise and market development. She held similar roles at Captain D’s and Huddle House and will lead the company’s plan to double locations in the next five years.

Martin says Lennys is focused on a density strategy: growing stronger in markets the brand already has name value instead of expanding outward. The chain is also around a third of the way complete with its POS system rollout.

“We want to stay really heavily focused on the footprint we have, which in is Texas, and then kind of moving over to the Southeast,” he says, adding that Lennys would like to grow in Michigan, Oklahoma, and Kansas as well.

There’s little question Lennys rebranding and updated design will fuel the process. “No doubt about it,” Martin says. “We were really patient in making sure that we had a lot of the right steps in place and we really have great expectations for the brand.”