Quaker Steak & Lube Pumps Up Rebirth
After being purchased by TravelCenters of America last spring, Quaker Steak & Lube is stepping back on the gas and looking to get back on a road to growth after traveling through bankruptcy in 2015.
In an interview with Franchise Times about the brand’s rebirth, John Ponczoch, senior vice president of the TA Restaurant Group, said TCA’s first interest in the brand came back in 2014 when it was building a new travel center in Columbia, South Carolina. Unfazed by its bankruptcy, and always looking for new food brands to add to its travel center portfolio, Ponczoch said it viewed the then-troubled brand as “an opportunity to grow our portfolio and leverage our experience in multi-unit franchise operations.”
Just looking at the brand from afar before the acquisition, he added, it was clear Quaker Steak & Lube should be a national brand with its product lineup, customer loyalty and automotive-Americana focus that should have no problem translating from coast to coast.
At the time of its $25 million purchase, QSL had nine company locations and 41 franchise units. With a few additions since then, it is now up to 15 company-owned units as the brand looks to expand further through franchising.
Getting deeper into his interest in the brand, which led to purchasing the casual dining concept out of bankruptcy, Ponczoch said its average unit volumes that were “well over $3 million” caught his attention, and added to the company’s interest for taking Quaker Steak & Lube under its wing.
With the biggest changes are still to come, he said the company is looking at everything from menus to operations, as well as marketing, training and branding. In the time since our conversation, the company has updated its menu to “incorporate our award winning sauces into new entrees.”
The updated menu, he added, is another part of the story for current and future franchisees to see the brand’s personality retailed, while focusing on the items that delight its customers and have built QSL a loyal following in its home turf, that’s primarily in middle America, but as far west as Denver and as far south as Florida. To that end, the company has hired a chef and beverage manager, both to roll out the latest updates, but to also enhance the guest experience on an ongoing basis.
Beyond full-service restaurants, the company is working on developing a QSL Express concept that it looks to roll out in the parent company’s travel centers. The brand’s upper-level management has been replaced since the bankruptcy, transferring those duties to Ponczoch and the rest of TA’s leadership that has ample franchisor experience through its Iron Skillet and Country Pride restaurant brands.
“We’re looking for multi-unit operators hopefully in the restaurant business,” he said about the search for new franchisees. “Because we have such a variety on the buildings, we’re open to … stadiums or colleges or airports.”