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An Iconic Restaurant Chain Continues to Evolve
The Fast Casual Nation Podcast offers exclusive interviews with experts ranging from top chefs and brand makers to executives and restaurants who work in one of the fastest-growing segments of the restaurant industry. In this episode, Pepe chats with Craig Erlich, President and CEO of Friendly's Restaurants, about Friendly’s Cafe, labor shortages, and technology.
Erlich talks about his background in the industry. He shares that he got his start in the restaurant business as a teenager and worked his way up through a variety of positions. He says, “I actually started my career in the restaurant business as an early teen and worked probably in every position, dishwasher, prep cook, line cook, cook, barback, waiter, manager.” He talks about leaving the industry and going into retail leadership for 25 years, before returning to his restaurant roots, and joining the team at Friendly’s Restaurants.
Pepe and Erlich chat about how dining habits have changed over the past two and a half years, particularly due to Covid. Erlich shares that it created a strong push towards off-premise dining and third party delivery models. He says, “When Covid hit, you know, many, many restaurants, the ones that survived, were the ones that embraced the off-premise third party business. And, I think you know when you look at how restaurants are performing today, that fast casual balance of convenience, and also can enjoy your favorite restaurant anywhere, anyhow, is really popular.”
Erlich drops the exciting news that Friendly’s is launching a new fast casual concept called Friendly’s Cafe. He shares that the new concept will have a more modern design than the traditional Friendly’s Restaurants. He talks about the menu innovations, and shares that the new dishes were created through a collaboration with customers, employees and franchisees. Erlich tells Pepe about a few of the new menu offerings while also ensuring her that the brand is committed to keeping fan favorites as well.
When Pepe asks Erlich about supply chain issues and labor shortages, he talks about how those challenges shape how they are continuing to run and open restaurants. Erlich shares that they also lean into technology to drive efficiencies and with third-party delivery, but he is quick to add that the one thing technology won’t replace is the Friendly’s family. He says, “So I will tell you that tech is never going to be a substitute for human interaction, at least not in Friendly’s.”
To hear more from Erlich about the restaurant's new concept, his thoughts on ghost kitchens, and what the company has planned for virtual brands, listen to this episode of Fast Casual Nation on Apple Podcasts.
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