Soon after I arrived in Charleston, I fielded a call from an aggrieved reader, who wanted to know why I never wrote about her favorite restaurant, Fatz Café. I explained which i focus primarily on locally owned, independent restaurants, which only upset her further. She’d always thought the Fatz in North Charleston was the only Fatz Locations in the world.
Lately, though, fewer customers have made that mistake about the 45 restaurants inside the Greenville-based chain. “Fatz got off track just a little bit,” admits marketing vice president Zac Painter. Based on Painter, Fatz responded towards the recession and ensuing drop-off in casual dining traffic by diluting its homegrown Southern character.
“We became everything to everyone, because everybody was fighting over every share of stomach there is,” Painter says.
Now Fatz is wanting to reverse that trend with a brand new menu featuring freshly made buttermilk biscuits, pimento cheese-and-bacon jam dip plated in a skillet and Mason jar cocktails. The restaurant’s also done away with something that didn’t pass its “is it Southern?” test, including most of the pop music on its playlist.
“We used to have an Asian chicken salad,” Painter says. “It was a great salad, but it’s not exactly what a Southern kitchen would serve, so we took it off the menu.”
Painter said customers have mostly responded positively for the changes, but there is a corporate process in position for dealing with guests who want their Mediterranean fish or pasta back.
“Someone from our support center or regional manager personally contact(s) them to say, ‘We promise you’re going to love what we’re doing,’” he says, emphasizing quality upgrades such as a change to Carolina shrimp and homemade peach preserves; the condiment is meant to reference the converted peach shed which 29 years back housed the very first Fatz.
“From a kitchen perspective, we’re doing a lot more things in-house, so we had to streamline the menu so we might be really finest in class at what we should do,” Painter continues. “We required to get back as to what Fatz Hours Of Operation was about.”
Fatz isn’t alone in trying to nurse an informal dining brand back to health. An oversaturated marketplace, interest in local food and the interest in fast casual restaurants, such as Chipotle, have devastated the casual dining sector. In 2016, Logan’s Roadhouse filed for bankruptcy, while Ruby Tuesday and Bob Evans each closed lots of locations. Earlier this year, the parent company of Carrabba’s and Bonefish Grill announced it had been shuttering 43 outlets.
“It’s been rough,” Painter says. Other chains are tinkering with rebranding hoping turning customer demographics within their favor. A 2014 Morgan Stanley study indicated that casual dining’s “core customers” are eaters between 50 and 68, which may explain why Cracker Barrel recently presented Holler & Dash, an exposed brick-and-cold brew cplgty kind of concept. “We developed Holler & Dash to leverage our brand strengths, more particularly our Southern roots,” a spokeswoman told AdWeek.
Still, aging restaurant chains also have to address problems that Mason jars and iron skillets can’t fix. On a recent visit to the Fatz in North Charleston, only a couple of the tables within the section where I had been seated were occupied. Within minutes of my arrival, one of many parties received its entrees, including an apparently undercooked steak.