‘Still here’ is refrain for Roy Rogers
Roy Rogers’ fare includes burgers, roast beef and chicken, all under one roof.
After traversing some rocky, rutted paths during the recession, Roy Rogers Restaurants believes it’s back on happy trails as it seeks to double its store count during the next five years.
With a menu based upon burgers, roast beef and chicken—rather than just one protein like many fast-food chains—co-owners Jim Plamondon and Pete Plamondon Jr. are focused on executing an aggressive growth plan, opening a range of new locations and communicating the story that Roy Rogers is back—even to a younger audience that may never have heard of the famous singer and Western movie star who passed away in the late 1990s.
Peter Plamondon was one of the insiders who helped launch Roy Rogers as an in-house restaurant concept for Marriott in the 1960s. He left the company in 1979 to become a franchisee of the brand he helped create. By the early 1990s, he had more than a dozen franchised locations, but the brand as a whole was in trouble.
Purchased by Hardee’s in 1990 as part of a real estate play to move into the mid-Atlantic and Northeast states, it converted dozens of Roy Rogers over to its own banner. For a variety of reasons, the move was not a success and sales volumes tumbled.
“It failed miserably,” said Jim Plamondon, who purchased his father’s franchised locations in the early 2000s with brother, Pete Plamondon Jr. Seeing gradual decline under the parent, but optimistic for its future prospects, the brothers purchased the entire, much smaller Roy Rogers chain in 2002.
They had plans to rejuvenate and re-franchise the brand, but had to shelve those plans during the recession. Now, with credit flowing again and the quick-serve category in the midst of a multi-year growth spurt, they have begun expanding Roy Rogers, which recently opened its 50th store.
Greg Seymoure, director of restaurant operations at Roy Rogers, said the company’s strategy for competing with brands like McDonald’s and Popeyes is focusing on operational execution and the quality of the food that, he said, often motivates customers to drive long distances to get their fix.
Talking about little things like the cleanliness of tables in its stores, for example, he added, “I can’t compete with them on marketing, so I’m in a competition with myself, with quality, with managers, with a systematic approach to execution.”
With the economy heating up and more restaurant brands hiring, Seymoure said staff recruitment has been a challenge for the brand, and his solution has been communicating a clear career path with potential recruits.
“We have fantastic management retention, but the recruiting pool is difficult,” he said.”
Building upon its base of 50 stores, Roy Rogers is preparing to open six additional locations over the next six months, largely concentrated in the Mid-Atlantic states including New Jersey and Maryland. The brand is headquartered in Frederick, Maryland, approximately an hour west of Baltimore.
The company is still selling new franchises to single-unit and first-time operators, but Seymoure added its ideal candidates are people looking to open as many as five locations and those who may already run other concepts.
“I think we’re a great portfolio addition to them,” he said. “We have a guy that this is his very first foray into franchising as well as an owner-operator—it all depends.”
Jim Plamondon said as the economy has grown and capital has loosened, Roy Rogers is seeing increased interest from operators looking to open new restaurants.
“Our brand is one that we think is ripe for expansion,” he said. “It was so big at one time, and we feel like there’s a great opportunity to continue to expand.”
‘The holy trio’
He tempered his future plans by saying “our dreams and aspirations aren’t to get to 650 restaurants,” but feels it’s realistic to see the chain growing to 100 units within the next five years.
Due to its private ownership, Plamondon added the brand is under no pressure to grow, which gives it the flexibility to be more selective with its future franchise partners.
“For us it’s a little more challenging because we were once this big chain, but now we’re a much smaller chain,” he said. “We’ve got to educate them and say we are still around, here’s why the numbers shrank — I know that story, but the guy on the street doesn’t necessarily know that.”
Part of that story includes pumping up what he affectionately calls “the holy trio” of burgers, roast beef and chicken.
“Nobody else does that in our industry,” he said. “We do all three under one roof, so we really attract a group of customers that likes variety—you can make everybody happy.”