How Did Some Restaurant Chains Grow During the Pandemic?

March 25, 2021
Barbara Castiglia

Food is serious business. Now, on The Main Course, host Barbara Castiglia will invite insiders on the front lines of food to share their expertise, strategies, and forecasts for navigating the ever-changing restaurant industry.


How did some restaurant chains grow during the pandemic? They had to pivot and meet new customer demands to answer the consumer question of “What’s for Dinner?” The Main Course welcomed Carl Howard, President and CEO of Fazoli’s, to talk about how he and his team turned the brand around and continued to evolve it during the pandemic.

“We have a lot of interest because we’re not collecting franchisee fees or royalties for the first year, and we’re focused on converting properties, not building new ones.” – Carl Howard

Howard has a long career in restaurants. He went from GM to CEO of Damon’s, worked as a franchisee, and more. After that, he was interviewing to run another concept, but during conversations, one of the interviewer’s said, “You’d be perfect for Fazoli’s.” It turns out, he was and has been at the helm since 2008.

His first move was to create a new menu. The brand was known as the “fastest Italian restaurant,” but Howard remarked that the food was terrible.

“We had to readdress the culinary side of the business. We were losing consumers because of food quality. Now we have a tremendous menu with lots of baked pasta.”

He also changed the experience. They began using real plates and silverware and bringing food to guests versus them picking up. Employees now bussed the tables and offered drink refills or more breadsticks. “That’s a lot of service for $8,” Howard said.

When COVID hit, Howard said they paused for a few weeks focusing on liquidity drivers, then went on the offense. “We wanted to solve the problem for Americans. They needed convenience and value, so we introduced the Super Family Meal. It’s a bucket of pasta, breadsticks, a pizza, and a gallon drink,” he explained.

That lead to new visitors and a surge, so they placed employees outside with tablets to make drive-thru lines move quicker. The brand experienced double-digit growth for the last eight months, and new franchisees are lining up. “We have a lot of interest because we’re not collecting franchisee fees or royalties for the first year, and we’re focused on converting properties, not building new ones.”

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