Emerging Brands

Bubba's 33 shows it can hang with Texas Roadhouse

The fast-growing sports bar chain has been on a traffic tear in recent months, just like its big sibling.
Bubba's has 40 units and plans to open five more this year. | Photo: Shutterstock

Everyone knows Texas Roadhouse is a traffic juggernaut. The steakhouse chain has been one of the best-performing brands coming out of the pandemic and is currently riding a streak of four consecutive quarters of positive traffic even as the broader full-service segment struggles.

Not to be overlooked, though, is Roadhouse’s 40-unit little brother, Bubba’s 33. The full-service burger and beer brand has been hot on the heels of Roadhouse in terms of traffic, according to data from Placer.ai. The researcher found that Bubba’s year-over-year transactions increased every month from May to September, including a 5.1% jump in June.

Founded in 2013 as a complementary growth vehicle to the larger Roadhouse, Bubba’s serves burgers, pizza, beer and a variety of bar bites. After more than doubling its footprint to 16 units in 2016, it has grown at a rate of three to five stores a year since. It has restaurants in 15 states, with a large concentration in the South and Southwest.

Sales have grown even faster than new openings. Last year, Bubba’s system sales rose 25%, to $213.6 million, according to data from Technomic, making it the third fastest-growing sports bar chain in the U.S. behind eatertainment concepts Main Event and Dave & Buster's.

Roadhouse remains intent on growing the brand, and said it expects to add five stores this year and escalate from there going forward.

“In the next couple of years, we want to be in that five to seven Bubba's openings with a maybe next goal after that getting closer to 10 openings,” said Michael Bailen, head of investor relations, on an earnings call in July.

That said, the smaller chain has a long way to go to catch up with 670-unit Roadhouse. The company has aggressive expansion plans for its core concept, believing it can ultimately have 900 restaurants across the U.S. Roadhouse’s same-store sales growth has outpaced even Bubba’s impressive performance in recent quarters, though executives noted Bubba’s tends to be somewhat lower-priced.

“We feel very good with what we are seeing at Bubba's overall, and the menu pricing can be a little bit different at each concept, and the traffic trends can be a little bit different as well,” Bailen said. “Our new Bubba's are opening well, and we're feeling very good overall about their sales performance.”

Roadhouse’s success coming out of the pandemic has been understandable: Steak concepts in general have done well, and Roadhouse offers good value for the segment. It has also emphasized execution and staffing, sometimes at the expense of its bottom line.

It’s unclear what, exactly, is drawing people to Bubba’s, which doesn’t serve steak and arguably faces more competition in the crowded burger sector. CEO Jerry Morgan suggested one possibility, and it’s pretty simple.

“It's an exciting concept,” he said during an earnings call last October. “It's fun. It's energetic. Pizzas, burgers, wings, all of the offerings that we have, that makes it very different. And it's got a different vibe. So it's fun, absolutely fun.”

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