Re-invigorating Success: How to Refresh and Reinvent Legacy Brands

April 14, 2023
Barbara Castiglia


Reinvention. That’s a word many restaurants understand after undergoing three years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through technology innovations to expanded delivery options, loyalty programs, and new concepts like ghost kitchens, the restaurant industry knows a thing or two—or ten—about the ‘adapt or die’ mentality. Refreshing and reinventing a restaurant is one thing, but legacy brands must avoid reinventing themselves into an unrecognizable state. It’s a high-wire balancing act to bring customers something new without losing those core facets of brand identity customers rely on and enjoy.

One man who has spent a career re-invigorating and refreshing legacy brands is James Walker, CEO of Frisch’s Restaurants. He joined Frisch’s in 2022 after a decades-long career working with some of the industry’s most known and loved legacy brands. Walker spoke with The Main Course’s Barbara Castiglia on the best approaches to refreshing legacy brands and what he hopes to accomplish at Frisch’s Restaurants.

“They’re brands with a history of living in the hearts and minds of their customer and employee base. And they’re looking for someone to come in and help them—I don’t want to say re-invigorate—but how do they recultivate that great brand legacy? In the case of Frisch’s over seventy-five years, how do we get back to that level in the hearts and minds of their customer where the world around them may have evolved more than they have,” Walker said.

Castiglia and Walker discuss the following in the episode:

• Taking in customer feedback to assist in legacy brand growth and reinvention

• Offering value as a critical component of one’s brand

• Refreshing a brand while remaining authentic to the core brand values and voice

“When talking about being genuine or authentic, it starts with honesty,” Walker said. “You can’t fake being genuine. You can’t fake being authentic. Either you’re honest, or you’re not. And if you listen to your customers, that doesn’t mean you listen, and you do everything they ask you to do. It’s listening to our customers and figuring out what is feasible and what makes sense for the brand.”

About James
James Walker is CEO of Cincinnati-based Frisch’s® Restaurants, a 75-year-old American Comfort Food, Casual Theme Restaurant brand famous for its “Big Boy®” burgers. Before Frisch’s, Mr. Walker was CEO of an ultrafast grocery startup BUYK, in New York City. Walker’s more than 30 years of broad-based, senior level, management experience in the hospitality and retail industries has served brands such as Nathan’s Famous®, Baja Fresh®, Cinnabon®, and Subway®. He has conducted business in more than 70
international markets, including such emerging markets as Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Pakistan, and Mongolia, as well as virtually all major trade areas within the United States.

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