Emerging Brands

Ground Round to give a beer concept a try

A new spinoff called GR Kitchen & Taps will be paired with a hotel.
Ground Round
Photo courtesy of Ground Round IOC

Casual-dining pioneer Ground Round is trying a new beer-centric concept in its latest attempt at a comeback.

The franchisee-owned chain, which has shrunk to 15 locations, plans to open the first GR Kitchen & Taps in Waterloo, Iowa, paired with a Best Western hotel. The prototype will feature an extensive array of local and craft beers, according to the franchisor, franchisee-owned Ground Round IOC.

The company said the new venture will also feature an updated menu that includes such items as plant-based options and decadent desserts.

The unit is franchised to a company called FNO LLC. It is intended to serve as the foodservice facility for the Best Western, which is owned by an affiliated party, as well as welcoming local residents.

Along with TGI Friday’s, Houlihan’s, Red Lobster and a handful of concepts that are no longer in operation, Ground Round helped to define what’s now known as casual dining.

It was conceived in 1969 as a sister concept to the Howard Johnson family dining chain. The notion was to capture consumers who had grown up as Howard Johnson fans but were now looking for a more adult experience where they could take their own kids. Unlike many of its competitors, its focus was on families rather than young singles.

The brand was spun off from Howard Johnson when the latter became part of Marriott Corp. in the 1980s. In 2004, all 75 corporately owned locations closed on Valentine’s Day weekend because the franchisor’s loan was called.

Operators of the 130 or so franchised restaurants open at the time banded together to acquire rights to the brand and keep their restaurants open. The operation has plugged along in the years since, retaining some signatures of the concept while making accommodations to changing preferences.

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