Roti, one of the country’s fastest growing chains pre-pandemic, is planning to permanently close about a third of its restaurants, the fast casual’s CEO said Wednesday.
Chicago-based Roti had 42 locations before the coronavirus crisis and currently operates 14 open restaurants, CEO Justin Seamonds, who took over the chain in February 2020, said.
It plans to reopen another 14 or so locations during the year, as conditions dictate, while shuttering the remaining 14 units.
“We’re waiting for train traffic and road traffic and office occupancy,” Seamonds said. “We have a definite timeline through the end of the year on reopenings that we are managing constantly. What we don’t want to do is reopen and then have to reclose. We’re trying to find that balance between being conservative and aggressive.”
Roti is handing out 200 free meals on the first day of each location's reopening.
As for the permanent closures, Seamonds said, “We’ve been able to successfully partner with a lot of landlords for exits from sites that weren’t a good fit between the brand, the location and the landlord.”
Customers at the reopened Roti locations will notice a number of changes, from menu to decor to service, he said.
The chain is shifting from a menu that was focused on build-your-own offerings to one that is more heavily focused on chef-designed options.
Pre-pandemic, just 10% of customers ordered set menu items. Now, that number has climbed to 30%, with the goal of creating a 50-50 mix, Seamonds said.
Having preset dishes, rather than customizable ones, boosts consistency while also trimming food and labor costs.
“We’ve made great strides with putting together menu items customers are excited about,” he said.
Roti has rolled out curbside pickup where it’s realistic and is talking with ghost kitchen operators about possible strategies. The chain is eyeing new dayparts, menu strategies and potential virtual brands.
“It’s not necessarily about units,” Seamonds said. “It’s more about reach. And that’s where we’ve learned a ton.”
The chain hopes and plans to return to growth mode “literally as soon as we can,” he said.
“We’re currently in six cities,” Seamonds said. “Our ambition is to be a national chain of restaurants. We want to be really specific about how to get from here to there. Step one is to recover and learn. We’ve got to reopen and figure out what works best with our brand and our team. Then we can focus on continuing to evolve that.”