Tony Roma’s CEO Talks Expansion at RFDC
The redesigned Tony Roma’s restaurant on International Drive in Orlando features the new modern décor, flexible dining spaces and new menu.
In April, Tony Roma’s signed an agreement with its first new franchisee since 2011, the end of a five-plus-year domestic drought President and CEO Bradley Scher says happened as the company was shifting its focus to international development.
Since that April 13 deal with GEM Hospitality to bring Tony Roma’s to West Palm Beach, Florida, the brand has added new franchisees in Tennessee, Colorado and Idaho, growth Scher says is a direct result of the brand transformation undertaken in 2016 with a complete overhaul of the restaurant atmosphere, service platform and menu following extensive consumer research.
“The company had lost focus in the U.S.,” Scher tells me when I caught up with him during the Restaurant Finance & Development Conference this week in Las Vegas. The menu had ballooned beyond Tony Roma’s roots as a rib restaurant and strayed from strong execution in its bar service. “So we skinnied down the menu to focus on what we’re good at and we also paid more attention to bar service.”
The chain’s company-owned location on International Drive in Orlando was ground zero for the overhaul, also getting a complete redesign to the new sleeker look Tony Roma’s is rolling out across its locations. “We’ve taken that model and shared it with franchisees, all while keeping the Tony Roma’s DNA,” says Scher. Franchisees are looking to the corporate team to be the leaders, Scher continues, which is why they tested the new menu at company restaurants before taking it systemwide. Franchisees still have what Scher calls “flexible consistency,” the ability to keep some regional favorites on their menus while at the same time creating a consistent Tony Roma’s experience across all 150 locations.
As the brand focuses more on domestic growth, Scher says signing new franchisees is important, but “core to us is getting our existing franchisees to open more restaurants,” especially as Tony Roma’s looks to return to markets where it used to have locations.
“We’re a 45-year-old brand, and people remember us in markets where we no longer are,” says Scher. “We have a really, really strong brand recognition, and people like the ribs, we’re still known as a place for ribs.”