Johnny Rockets takes to the open road with drive-throughs and food trucks

Johnny Rockets takes to the open road with drive-throughs and food trucks

Johnny Rockets is famous for its Americana-inspired decor, juicy burgers and rich milkshakes. In a move to revitalize the brand and move beyond same-store growth, the restaurant franchise is creating new opportunities for investors to become part of the Johnny Rockets tradition. The expansion of Johnny Rockets will include food trucks, drive-in theater locations and a new quick service-inspired drive-through concept called "Johnny Rockets Route 66." These new marketing maneuvers show how even aging brands can revitalize messaging while sticking close to the company's roots.

Evolution and expansion
The recent history of the Johnny Rockets brands shows why the franchise was so interested in shaking up its marketing approach. The franchise was purchased by Red Zone Capital Management in 2007, just as the restaurant was aiming toward a massive franchising expansion that would take the burger joint from 200 locations to over 1,000 units. These plans never materialized, but Johnny Rockets has still experienced modest growth over the past seven years, according to the Orange County Register. Red Zone Capital Management sold Johnny Rockets to private equity firm Sun Capital Partners in 2013, and the new owners immediately began to brainstorm ways to make the most of the enduring, All-American Johnny Rockets brand.

The move to mobile
James Walker, chief development officer at Johnny Rockets, explained to the Los Angeles Register that the new Route 66 quick-service locations will not define the new direction for the franchise. Sit-down service stores are still core the brand, but Walker hopes that "the drive-thru option will potentially increase [the franchise's] market share and overall sales."

Ideally, the two-restaurant concept will function much like the relationship between Pei Wei and its parent company P.F. Chang's. Both restaurants serve much of the same food, though restaurant atmosphere and presentation of cuisine are unique at each location. This strategy allows P.F. Chang's to market its brand to a different sector of restaurant buyers while simultaneously strengthening the customer's brand loyalty. Likewise, Johnny Rockets hopes to draw in more sit-down business by introducing new customers to the brand with convenient drive-through locations.

Coinciding of the launch of the Johnny Rockets Route 66 concept in 2015, the franchise is also introducing Route 66 food trucks. These compact venues will serve burgers, fries and shakes like the full-sized Route 66 locations. In addition to typical food truck locations, like outside business parks and at special events, Johnny Rockets is marketing the food trucks as one half of a mobile drive-in theater experience. The trucks are designed to work in conjunction with pop-up movie projector screens, says the Los Angeles Register.

Roadside advantages
It's no surprise that Johnny Rockets has invested into the mobile restaurant sector considering the many benefits that food trucks can offer for a franchise. In addition to reducing costs, food trucks make it easier for franchises to reach markets where building a brick-and-mortar store wouldn't be feasible. Johnny Rockets has already had success spreading its franchise to cruise ships, so the brand is sure to utilize the mobile restaurant contract to its fullest.

Food truck franchises offer several advantages for investors as well, and Johnny Rockets may position the mobile restaurants as an introductory option for first-time franchisees. The simplicity of the mobile concept means that new owner-operators can take advantage of a more accessible learning curve, according to The price barrier for a mobile food truck is more manageable than the cost of a full-sized Johnny Rockets store.