Somewhere between the Wild West of quick serves and fast casuals and the frontier of full-service dining lies a middle ground occupied by family-style hybrids. Two such concepts, longtime American staples Bonanza and Ponderosa, are stampeding ahead of the rest by revitalizing their brands to remain competitive with both sides of the restaurant industry.

“We try to emulate as much of a full-service dining environment as we can, vis-à-vis the furniture, the type of food we serve, the ongoing service at the table,” says Tom Sacco, CEO of Homestyle Dining LLC, the company behind the two sister concepts. “But the quick-serve format of coming up and being able to order, and getting your food in a real short period of time is critical to us.”

Bonanza and Ponderosa—which feature the same core menu of steak-based entrées and differ slightly in regards to buffet options—were inspired by the 1960s TV show "Bonanza," a western series featuring the Cartwright family and Ponderosa Ranch. “Back in the sixties, seventies, and maybe even the eighties, our customers remembered watching that TV show; they grew up with that TV show,” Sacco says. But as Bonanza celebrated its 50th anniversary this year and Ponderosa its 48th, Sacco and his team realized it was time to update both brands to suit modern consumers.

“The original décor package, which was really relevant and really timely, and really cool back then, has outgrown its usefulness,” Sacco says. The solution? More focus on food, he says.

Sacco says both Bonanza and Ponderosa will receive the same updates to décor, which will highlight core food offerings. High-quality images of the brands’ signature line up of steaks will do two things, Sacco says, it will “inspire and educate the guest and also hold the employees to a higher standard of performance.”

“We’re in the food business; we’re selling food, not saddles or lassos and that type of stuff,” Sacco says. “We’re going to focus on our food.”

Updates to the menu were also a key area of focus for Sacco and his team. A new Cilantro Butter Lime Salmon will join the lineup of steaks and burgers. “It’s a product that you could probably get at Capital Grille,” he says. “It’s a beautiful entrée that still fits our price range.”

The upscale fish dish is balanced by a selection of appetizers and snacks like Brisket Nachos, Cheese Fries, and Chili Cheese Fries, which Sacco says appeal to the quick serve consumer. New healthy menu items include Citrus Bean Salad with Edamame, Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, and Healthy Crunchy Salad with Kale. “It’s a blend of both types of food,” Sacco says. “That’s why I say it’s really a hybrid model.”

He says the revamp has been met with positivity among franchisees. “Our franchisees are truly partners in the business with us, and as partners, you want to have open lines of communication,” he says. “I’m touring stores and holding meetings with franchisees. … We put out on a food show and a demo for them, so they’re getting a chance to see everything firsthand.”

Bonanza and Ponderosa will continue to expand in the markets they already have a foothold in, Sacco says, but the revamp will also allow the pair to expand into new targeted markets, including Texas and the Southeast. 

By Tamara Omazic

Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Design, News, Bonanza, Ponderosa