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New boss of Frisch's Big Boy restaurants plans expansion

August 30, 2015

The new leader of the Frisch's Restaurants chain wants to flex Big Boy's brand muscle with franchise expansion, new restaurant shapes and sizes, menu and beverage additions, and doing more to court younger customers.

The changes could mean more Big Boys in Indiana.

Atlanta-based NRD Capital has taken over after shareholder approval last week of its $175 million acquisition that ended family operation of the Cincinnati-based regional business dating to the 1940s. NRD head and interim Frisch's CEO Aziz Hashim calls Frisch's "a perfect fit" for the new investment fund built around franchising.

He calls it an iconic American brand that has been profitable and has "a wonderful business infrastructure," but can benefit from new approaches.

"It was doing just fine, but we felt 'Wow! There's tremendous growth potential here,'" Hashim told The Associated Press.

Hashim grew up in the Los Angeles area where the original Bob's Big Boy began, eating the double-decker burger sandwich as a Sunday family treat. He's very conscious of the fondness for Frisch's through generations in its home region and the attachment to its signature tartar sauce, onion rings, hot fudge sundaes and other favorites.

"Our primary goal is to make sure our existing customer is totally taken care of," he said. "So, no plan to alienate our current customer base; we want to actually make it better for them. At the same time, we want to make an effort to drive some new customers."

He has some offerings in mind to respond to customer suggestions. Here are some bite-sized highlights of initial plans:

—Adding franchised restaurants in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana and utilizing its Big Boy trademark rights in Tennessee to expand into that state, including the Nashville area. He expects some new Frisch's to be smaller and of different designs than the current Frisch's restaurants to reduce real estate needs, and to be in nontraditional locations such as college campuses. The current 121 Frisch's Big Boy restaurants include 26 franchises.

There are at currently five Frisch's Big Boy restaurants in Indiana, including locations in Anderson, Greensburg and Richmond.

—Adding appetizers and "shareable" plates, with possibilities such as chili cheese fries and buffalo chicken wings, along with hot dogs and other "classic American" items.

—Expanding beverages including more coffee variety and signature drinks; also, reviewing a contract that drew some customer ire by replacing Coca-Cola with Pepsi products two years ago, although Hashim notes it was a seven-year deal.

—Going after millenial generation customers; Hashim says a "Frisch's Big Boy 2.0" plan will be developed for drawing the younger set.

Hashim said even while it's now owned by private equity, Frisch's will keep family ties, including with founder Dave Frisch's grandchildren keeping two franchise restaurants in the Cincinnati area.

Outgoing CEO Craig Maier said at the special shareholders meeting Aug. 24 to approve the sale that it was the right move, but he'd rather not talk about it very much because "otherwise, I'll start crying."

And some lifelong fans are watching the changeover carefully.

Matt Justice, 29, of nearby Hamilton, said he thought the new ownership could mean improvements, but he wouldn't want to see wholesale changes. He eats Big Boys regularly, along with a lot of Frisch's breakfasts and soup-and-salad bar meals.

"I like Frisch's," he said, smiling. "I like it a lot."

Hashim, an experienced restaurant entrepreneur at age 48 who said he started as a teen mopping floors and cleaning bathrooms at a Burger King, said such fans have nothing to worry about.

"We bought the brand because of what it is today," he said.

The original Big Boy chain was started in 1936 in Glendale, California. Dave Frisch, part of a family that had operated restaurants in Cincinnati since 1902, opened the first Frsch's Big Boy near downtown Cincinnati in 1948. He eventually became the company's first franchisee.

There also are Big Boy restaurants owned by Warren, Michigan-based Big Boy Restaurants International LLC, which has about 100 restaurants in the United States and another 280 in Japan.

Frisch's became its own ownership group in 2001 after the parent company went through bankruptcy and was sold to investor Robert Liggett Jr.

The company recently accused its former assistant treasurer of embezzling nearly $4 million.

NRD is part of Atlanta-based NRD Capital Management LLC, which is a major franchise operator of several well-known restaurants, including Popeye's, Subway, KFC and Taco Bell.

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