Update 11:19 am:
(WBIR) Wine and beer won't be on Shoney's menus in East Tennessee.
Bill Baugh, president and CEO of Shoney's of Knoxville, said his 20 restaurants in East Tennessee won't serve any alcohol.
His announcement comes after corporate Shoney's, which is headquartered in Nashville, announced it would allow locations to sell alcohol. But Baugh said that's not the case for his restaurants located in 10 East Tennessee counties.
Shoney's are locally owned and operated franchises.
(The Tennessean) David Davoudpour's campaign to return the iconic Shoney's restaurant chain to its "glory days" has brought a few new twists: the first Shoney's mall location, a new Shoney's On The Go concept with walk-up and drive-through windows and the first full-service bar.
And coming soon to a Shoney's near you: wine and beer, a move designed to make the brand more relevant to millennials – a demographic group that didn't necessarily grow up with Shoney's, but one that is important to its future, he said.
"There is a group of restaurant customers that wants to have a glass of beer or wine with a meal, and we understand that," said Davoudpour, CEO of the Nashville-based Shoney's North America, Inc., formed when he bought the chain in late 2006 through his investment company.
Shoney's will be adding beer and wine – and in some locations, even the full bar – as local market conditions and alcoholic-beverage laws dictate, he said.
For Nashville, he expects to have beer and wine in the restaurants within the next year, as each store is "re-imaged" to bring it up to date with the new style of exterior and interior design the company has already rolled out in Panama City Beach, Fla.; Branson, Mo.; Morgantown, W.Va.; and Atlanta, Davoudpour said.
"There might be just one person in a group who insists on going somewhere that beer or wine is available, but if they can't get that at Shoney's, they'll go somewhere else," he said.
At about 3,500 square feet, the mall restaurant, at Sugarloaf Mills in Lawrenceville, Ga., is about half the size of a typical stand-alone Shoney's. The full bar was included to attract shoppers who want a mixed drink, Davoudpour said. The store also has a separate, walk-up Shoney's On The Go kiosk for those who want to take traditional Shoney's menu items home with them.
Inside the Sugarloaf Mills restaurant, patrons can eat from the buffet, or order from the expanded menu, which includes several new items Shoney's has recently introduced, such as steaks and wild-caught salmon. The standard Shoney's menu items and desserts – such as hot-fudge cake and strawberry pie – are still offered, as well.
"With our new-concept stores, we're finding that 80 percent of our diners are ordering from the menu rather than eating from the buffet," Davoudour said.
Those stores also are on track to surpass $2 million a year each in gross sales, a significant increase over the traditional Shoney's locations, where the majority of customers still opt for the buffet, he added.
Shoney's now has 165 locations, mostly in the Southeast. That includes 60 company-owned locations, including the Sugarloaf Mills, Panama City Beach, Branson and Atlanta stores; the rest are operated by franchisees.
Davoudpour plans to expand both the company-owned and franchise stores, but sees the strongest growth on the franchise side.
"We want to add 100 franchisees over the next five years, with each one eventually opening five stores," he said. "That would be 500 new franchise locations for us, helping us to grow more quickly."
The chain is way down from its heydays of the 1980s and '90s, when there were more than 1,000 locations. But it is rebounding as Davoudpour concentrates on his core principles: "I believe that if you give people honest value with great food, they will come back again and again. We want every guest to feel that they're getting more for their money," he said. "The food is always fresh, never frozen, and is all prepared on the premises."
He's aiming Shoney's for a space he believes is open for the taking, between family restaurants such as Golden Corral and Cracker Barrel, and higher-priced chains with full menus. To do that, Shoney's will keep its buffets, but continue to concentrate on compelling menu items, including steaks. In Branson, for instance, there are four varieties of steak on the menu, rather than just the T-bones and sirloins offered now in Nashville.
Flatbread sandwiches have recently been added to the menu, including one that has the fixings of the traditional Shoney's Slim Jim, just with the different bread. Davoudpour also plans to increase the weekend brunch offerings to attract more customers.
Shoney's also has hired an outside firm to help in the push to sign up new franchisees, he said, and is even looking to expand to international markets. A traditional stand-alone Shoney's requires about a $1 million investment, while the smaller mall-type store takes about $700,000.
His goal is to make Shoney's once again the kind of go-to restaurant it became when it was developed by Alex Schoenbaum, who founded the chain in 1947 in Charleston, W.Va., Davoudour said.
Shoney's is well-structured for growth, he said, as it has the support of his investment company, the Atlanta-based Royal Capital Corp., which also owns 135 Church's fried chicken outlets. The privately held company has no debt, Davoudpour said.