Golden Corral—known as the biggest and most recognizable buffet chain in America—is just a couple of months away from its debut in the fast-casual segment. 

The chain’s new spinoff, Homeward Kitchen, is scheduled to open in Southern Pines, North Carolina in December. The restaurant is opening in a former Chick-fil-A building. 

Golden Corral described the space as “light, bright, and spacious,” with two dining areas, a designated section for mobile orders and third-party delivery drivers, and a drive-thru. 

“We see an opportunity to provide wholesome, craveable food for families on the go. We’re excited to launch a concept that combines high quality, freshly-prepared, classic comfort foods, with the convenience of being able to enjoy them in the restaurant, on the go, through the drive-thru, or at home,” Golden Corral CEO Lance Trenary said in a statement. “Homeward Kitchen is the perfect way to enjoy a delicious, satisfying meal that fits in with the busy pace of everyday life.”

The menu will feature a mixture of classics and new creations, like 12-hour slow-coked pot roast with homestyle vegetables, fried chicken, a half-pound meatloaf sandwich, cajun mac & cheese balls, fried green tomatoes, Nashville and hot honey dipped chicken sandwiches, mac & cheese, coleslaw, mashed potatoes, and banana pudding. There will also be options around family-style servings to feed larger groups. 

Golden Corral has already identified nearly 500 U.S. markets that fit Homeward Kitchen’s profile, Trenary told FSR in August. The second and third locations are under development. The brand will be operated by a separate management team and stand as an independent entity from Golden Corral.

“Franchisees like to diversify their portfolio of restaurants,” Trenary said to FSR. “And so we said, ‘Well, they should never have to leave our system. Let’s give them something that’s 3,000 to 3,500 square feet that has a drive-thru window.’ We’re going to see about 75 or 80 in the dining room, but much smaller footprint, still really good AUVs we’re anticipating, about $3.5 million, and we think we can get there pretty quickly.”

Golden Corral received unanimous approval for an architectural compliance permit from the Southern Pines Town Council in April. The Southern Pines Pilot reported that the physical building will remain largely the same, but with fresh paint, new lighting, and awnings. 

The Council raised concerns around the drive-thru, since Chick-fil-A’s lines previously spilled into the highway. However, a Homeward Kitchen representative said he does not expect the new restaurant to have the same issue. 

Interestingly enough, there are several instances of Chick-fil-A showing interested in moving into former Golden Corral locations, including North Cornwall Township, Georgia; Christianburg, Virginia; and Walker, Michigan. The Chick-fil-A restaurant in Southern Pines moved into a former Golden Corral building as well.

The brand opened another concept, GC Grill House By Golden Corral, that goes back to its roots as a steakhouse. Trenary said the Lake Placid, Florida, location has performed well, but there are no plans for further expansion.

Emerging Concepts, Fast Casual, Growth, Story