10 years after bankruptcy filing, Bennigan’s plots 2nd act

The nostalgic brand reports growth with its modern prototype.

Bennigan’s, once a stalwart among casual-dining chains, is mounting its comeback after going through bankruptcy a decade ago.

The faux-Irish pub-and-grub concept, known for its deep-fried Monte Cristo sandwich, shuttered all 150 of its corporate-owned locations in 2008. (A number of franchised units remained.) As of 2016, the chain had just 18 restaurants in operation, with an average unit volume of $1.78 million, according to Technomic.

Today, there are 32 open Bennigan’s, with four locations under construction and six units slated to open in 2018, according to CEO Paul Mangiamele, who was brought in to revive the struggling brand in 2011 and whose Legendary Restaurant Brands LLC banner ended up purchasing the chain (along with the Steak and Ale brand) in 2015.

A fresh look

Bennigan’s in 2014 launched a small-footprint prototype designed to lure franchisees, which shaves about 2,000 square feet off the traditional unit size. Eight of the 5,300-square-foot stores are now open. In the future, all construction will be of the new design, Mangiamele says, and a portion of the legacy units are being remodeled in line with the prototype. Last year’s average unit volume for the prototype stores was $2.4 million, according to Bennigan’s franchise disclosure document.

And with the industry embracing off-premise, takeout is a focus, too. The chain plans to roll out online ordering later this quarter—with a mobile app slated for release in coming months—and bar areas have been redesigned to accommodate order pickup.

Avoiding the same fate

Despite the current headwinds in casual dining, Mangiamele is confident the once-beleagured chain will again find its footing. “They lost the brand DNA. They lost the culture,” he says, blaming Bennigan’s struggles on “the insidious disease called brand drift.”

Part of the solution, he says, is about reminding people what the chain was once like, driving that emotional connection and bringing them back.

“When you lose your vibe, you’re not worth saving,” he adds. “Bennigan’s never lost its vibe. It lost its scale.”

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