Brand evolution can be a slow and steady process, but for Johnny Rockets, the changes are fast and numerous. Gone are the retro design flourishes hearkening to the 1950s and post-World War II pop culture (think: “soda jerk” uniforms, jukeboxes, nailed-down booths, etc.).
CEO Charles Bruce, who joined the brand last March, says that while most restaurant concepts fail after five to 10 years, Johnny Rockets has reached the 30-year mark. Nevertheless, he says, the brand was ready for a makeover.
“Consumers were telling us, ‘Hey we like the brand; we like a lot of things about it; don’t change the name of it.’ … They just weren’t using it with much frequency,” Bruce says. “This brand had become a little old and a little tired and needed a facelift. If you think about it the people we were targeting 30 years ago when we started are much different than the ones we’re targeting now because many weren’t even alive 30 years ago.”
Like many burger concepts, Johnny Rockets has transformed its own image in hopes of courting the elusive Millennial. The brand dove into consumer research, collaborated with Ohio-based branding and design firm WD Partners, and came up with a Johnny Rockets 2.0 game plan. The name remains the same, but the logo has ditched its yellow sun background in favor of a red bottle-cap shape. The busy interior of checkered tile and bright red furniture has been tempered with wood planking, white brick veneer, wall murals, and a more tempered use of red accents.
The design reboot will be applied to the various Johnny Rockets iterations, including Route 66, which focuses on drive thru, and fast casual Johnny’s Burger Factory, which was launched last year (read more about Johnny’s Burger Factory here).
“Diner 2.0 really is a guest experience that gets draped over each one of those,” says James Walker, president of operations and development for Johnny Rockets.
The latest overhaul is aesthetic on the surface, but the changes seep into consumer-facing and back-of-house operations, as well. For example, the new Johnny Rockets will sport self-ordering kiosks as well as clamshell cookers to cut burger throughput from about five minutes to under a single minute—both of which debuted in Johnny’s Burger Factory last year.
The menu is also continuing its own transformation, which began about six months ago when Johnny Rockets brought Chef Calvin Harris onboard in the newly created position of director of culinary innovation. Under Harris, the brand has launched an dynamic limited-time-offer program featuring fresh flavors and international influences ranging from Irish to Korean.
“It has to be about the food to compete in the space that we’re in. We’re competing against aggressive folks, but we have a better product,” says CMO Joel Bulger. “We never told that story. Part of it was telling everybody was you’ve always loved Johnny Rockets I don’t think what you knew was how great of a hamburger it was.”
Tomorrow, Bruce, Walker, and Bulger will be at hand to welcome the public and media to the new Johnny Rockets in the Destiny USA Mall in Syracuse, New York, with the official grand opening taking place the following day.
The team is still about a month out from having a target number of retrofits and new 2.0 store openings for 2016, but Bruce says they’re planning for an aggressive remodel and upgrade strategy not just in the U.S. but at Johnny Rockets global locations, too. He adds that franchisees are also excited to embrace the new design.
“We needed a look, a design, a strong visual cue on the exterior of the building that told consumers who have been maybe walking by our stores or driving by: Something has changed; I should check that out,” Bruce says. “We think if we can get them in once, they’re going to come back and we’re going to eventually get them converted to a loyal consumer.”
By Nicole Duncan