Famous Dave's, Charley's Launch Fast-Casual Concepts

Chains debut prototypes to compete in rapidly expanding sector

Columbus, Ohio-based Charley’s also makes its initial foray into fast casual waters this week, opening the first Charley’s Philly Subs unit in its headquarters city Wednesday. Since opening its first restaurant 25 years ago near the Ohio State University campus, Charley’s has grown mostly through on-site locations at malls, airports, and military bases. But chain founder and chief executive Charley Shin said the new freestanding fast-casual concept gives Charley’s several ways to grow.

“This is the next step in taking the Charley’s brand around the globe,” Shin said. “Charley’s Philly Steaks is a two-fold achievement: better options for our loyal customers and more opportunities for interested franchise buys.”

The Charley’s Philly Steaks prototype also has a drive-thru, and the brand has included several more upscale service features inside. The paper plates of Charley’s traditional quick-service locations will be replaced with real silverware and ceramic plates, and the to-go packaging is made from 60-percent post-consumer recycled materials. Modern décor, lighting, and seating are also featured.

Charley’s has paired several new menu features with the debut of Charley’s Philly Subs, including an option for three different sizes of sandwich rather than a “one size fits all” approach at its quick-service locations.

Philly Bowls, which ditch the signature sandwich’s bread and combine the ingredients and toppings with rice, will be available for the first time. Also, all of the brand’s signature lemonades will be prepared fresh with real fruit, in strawberry, blueberry, and peach flavors.

Charley’s Philly Subs will offer eight types of french fries, including Ultimate Fries with Cheddar cheese, bacon, and ranch dressing, or Philly Funnel Fries with cream-cheese icing and powdered sugar. Desserts include new Signature Frozen Treats, all made with low-fat frozen yogurt.

Charley’s said it would open between five and 10 more Philly Subs locations in 2012. The chain’s system of more than 430 units in 44 states and 16 countries is 90-percent franchised.

— Mark Brandau, NRN.com