Mimi's Café to unveil new restaurant prototype


Promising a “French revolution,” the Mimi’s Café chain on Friday is scheduled to open a new prototype restaurant designed to reinvent the full-service brand with more fast-casual options.

Officials with parent company Bob Evans Farms Inc. said earlier this year the Mimi’s chain would under go a remodel program similar to that of the Bob Evans brand, which has added new sales layers with on-site bakeries and more carryout options.

Irvine, Calif.-based Mimi’s Café, with 145 locations in 24 states, has been struggling to turn around negative sales trends in recent years, and some reports have indicated the chain is for sale, though company officials have declined to comment on what they describe as rumors.

Mark Mears, Mimi’s’ president and chief operating officer, said the new prototype in Valencia, Calif., will be the first to test a comprehensive overhaul that will bring the French-inspired brand back to its roots as a bakery-café and bistro that will appeal to a younger, more contemporary audience on a number of levels.

Mimi’s, said Mears, had “lost its way,” drifting in recent years under various leaders to a more New Orleans-jazz-themed concept. The 34-year-old brand was founded in 1978 by Thomas Simms, whose restaurateur father Arthur Simms was inspired by French cafes while serving as an airman during World War II.

Though the chain reported a 3.3-percent decline in same-store sales during the first quarter, Mimi’s also scored relatively highly in the annual NRN Consumer Picks and other consumer surveys this year.

“Our core concept is strong, but we’re looking for new growth engines,” said Mears.

The new prototype design aims to make Mimi’s more relevant, offering a store-within-a-store format that will appeal to today’s convenience-hungry consumers who may not have time for a full-service experience, he said.

The first thing guests will see when they walk into the new prototype is a French bakery featuring traditional breakfast items like croissants and the chain’s signature muffins; pastries and Parisian-style macarons; breads such as baguettes, fougasse and batards; and a selection of grab-and-go sandwiches, salads and drinks.

Baristas will also serve coffee, including a new bold French roast, as well as a line of specialty mochas, lattes, cappuccino and flavored coffees. From the bakery, guests can also pick up carry out and to-go items, like quiches or savory tartines.

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