Restaurant Chains Get Makeovers

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An example of a once-teetering chain, Lombardi cites Max & Erma's, which today has 73 locations in the Midwest, down from more than 100 before the recession. "They were a regional version of T.G.I. Friday's and other 'fern bars' of the '70s and '80s," he says. Their formula, in his words, was "campy interiors, burgers and booze."

"They didn't evolve their brand or change with the consumer," he added.

The chain suffered double-digit sales declines before being acquired in 2010 by American Blue Ribbon Holdings, which has undertaken a much-needed makeover.

Hazem Ouf, CEO of American Blue Ribbon Holdings, says that in November the chain unveiled a 'next-generation' store, the prototype for its future restaurants, featuring an expanded list of locally-brewed craft beers. "It's all about value," says Ouf. To that end, the chain has added a three-course meal priced under $10.

For those chains that for whatever reasons lose favor with the eating-out public may go the way of Bennigans and Burger Chef. Last year, Friendly's, Chevys, Sbarro and Perkins filed for bankruptcy though they still have stores operating.

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