Black Bear Diner embarks on the new frontier

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“This is a wonderful opportunity for us to increase our historic AUV by $2.6 million. So for us, it’s really been the growth around offsite sites,” says Adams. “We were first and foremost an experiential brand, so the customer experience within our four walls matters a lot. [We’re] seeks to protect this in addition to facilitating off-site activities.

When Black Bear Diner opened in 1995, it fell squarely into the family restaurant category. But over the years, it has embraced NextGen Casual ideals, such as improving menu offerings, improving animal welfare practices, and supporting various social and environmental causes. (More recently, he launched a fundraising campaign to open a rehabilitation center for cubs orphaned or injured by forest fires.)

The channel also upholds a community-driven, people-oriented ethos, which has been on full display during the pandemic. To mitigate the negative impact on franchisees, it suspended royalties and increased the frequency of communications between operators and the company.

“We have this really strong franchise base, and their resilience through it all has been amazing,” says Adams. “We have spent the past six months re-launching our development, both corporately and with our franchise partners. We are delighted to say that we are sitting in this place and at this time with all of our franchise partners still intact.

Adams adds that while the brand averages about 10 corporate units and 10 franchise units per year, she expects the latter to exceed that figure in the coming years. Black Bear Diner is aiming to hit its 20-unit average again in 2022, and next year could be even bigger, thanks in large part to Lone Star status. The restaurant entered the greater Houston area in 2018 and has since opened half a dozen additional restaurants in the surrounding area. This year there are plans to expand to Dallas and San Antonio.

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