Nathan’s wants to be famous for more than hot dogs
James Walker wants Nathan’s Famous to be known for more than just hot dogs.
So, over the past few months, the Jericho, NY-based chain has been upgrading its burgers and sandwiches, all in an effort to improve their quality to match what the chain is more, uh, popular for.
“This is a better concept,” said Walker, a longtime industry executive hired last year to head Nathan’s restaurant division. “We wanted to elevate the entire menu to the hot dog level. They are truly the best in their class.
“We want to make sure that everything we serve is at this level.”
It’s not just the menu. The company has been working to improve its prototype, add new technology, and change the way it recruits new franchisees to run the chain’s restaurants, all in an effort to turn around the brand.
Nathan’s has experienced a steady decline in sales and the number of units for several years. The chain operated 300 locations in the United States in 2013, according to data from Catering company sister company Technomic. It was at 213 last year.
The company’s five-year compound annual growth rate of U.S. systems sales through 2018 was negative 5.5%.
“We definitely have a lot to do,” Walker said.
He said the company’s strategy was not a direct brand overhaul. “It’s not a radical departure,” Walker said. “It’s really an evolution and not a revolution.”
The company started with the menu, upgrading the chain’s New York Cheesesteak and including items like its chicken sandwiches. He also has a new line of shakes. “We focused on bringing them all to a very high end level,” Walker said. He noted that the items are “very bulky from a portion size perspective” to provide customers with “excellent value for money.”
Walker believes that the size of the menu items is a selling point for the brand. “I don’t know of any brand that serves sandwiches with 8 ounces of chicken. All of our burgers are double burgers, ”he said. “We have improved the quality and increased the size of the portions.”
That said, the broad menu concepts over the past few years have passed off as more narrow concepts, so why not just focus on hot dogs?
Still, Walker said Nathan’s large menu was a selling point for the brand. “When you think of Nathan, you think of a great burger and great chicken and great cheesesteak, with that hot dog,” he said. “It was also very important to us.”
Plus, he said, “This cheesesteak does so much for us,” Walker said.
The company is also working on a new design. The chain has renderings and floor plans and is researching potential locations in Tampa and its home market on New York’s Long Island. “We want the design to really convey that we’re more than the best hot dogs,” Walker said. “It’s a design that is very clearly in line with our positioning and our menu strategy. As someone comes along, they see that we are more of a high end concept, and that we are absolutely a very speed of service concept.
Nathan is also looking at technology. The company recently added third-party delivery, but it’s also looking at “everything from point of sale, processing, innovation around technology to a marketing perspective, and innovation in the restaurant. , from kiosks to menu boards, ”Walker said.
The “fourth step” of Nathan’s Return Stool is the company’s approach to franchising. The vast majority of the chain’s sites are operated by franchisees. The company recently changed its recruiting process and Discovery Day to find franchisees who “can be brand champions”. Nathan’s has already started recruiting new franchisees.
The company targets areas where the brand is well known, such as Florida and Long Island. But Nathan’s has a strong franchisee in Las Vegas, far from its main markets. “One of the things I love about hot dogs is that they are all about fun,” Walker said. “You can eat a hot dog and shoot a slot machine or roll the dice.”