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Captain D's: Sea change

Captain D's goes for a lighter menu and brighter look.

Concept: Captain D's
Location: Nashville, Tenn.
Footprint: 2,800 square feet
Seating: 84 seats
Key features: New grills, a variety of seating including communal tables, Caribbean color scheme, graphic menu boardscaptain d's


Younger diners and families were bypassing Captain D’s, says Jonathan Muhtar, chief marketing officer at the Nashville, Tenn.-based chain. Research revealed that the restaurants’ dark, nautical-theme interiors and predominantly fried menu items were not appealing to these customers. So Captain D’s began a systemwide refresh, installing grills in all 514 locations last year and debuting grilled dishes on the menu. The healthier items, such as grilled wild salmon and surf  and turf, priced $7 to $8, now account for 10 percent of sales—the largest area of growth in 2014, says Muhtar.

As the grilled menu rolled out, store remodels ramped up. The new beach-theme design sports a brighter color scheme inside and out. Seating options also have changed. “We now have communal tables and booths to attract more families,” says Muhtar. Oversize food photos and streamlined menu boards convey freshness. “We incorporated elements from the leading fast casuals in the industry,” says Muhtar. The goal of the menu and redesign was to put Captain D’s “squarely in the fast-casual space,” he adds.

Remodeling costs average  $110,000 per unit, says Michael Arrowsmith, chief development officer of Captain D’s, and so far, about 30 percent have been renovated. “We didn’t ask franchisees to go through the process until we started on the company restaurants,” he says. Captain D’s is roughly 50 percent franchised, and Arrowsmith expects to have the entire system upgraded in two years. It pays off—once remodeled, stores have shown double-digit sales increases, he says.

captain d's old

A dated sea- shack look characterized Captain D’s exterior in the old prototype.

new captain d's

The remodeled restaurants have a beachy, fast-casual vibe.

captain d's interior booths

Communal tables, part of the new seating plan, encourage families to visit.

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