Homestyle Dining LLC, parent to the legacy Ponderosa and Bonanza steakhouse chains, debuted in late May a new fast-casual concept called Bo's Steak & Grill.

Plano, Texas-based Homestyle opened the first Bo’s on May 20 in a converted standalone restaurant space along Interstate 20 in Lindale, Texas, near the East Texas town of Tyler.

“It takes some of the best of legacy brands that we have and brings that to fast casual,” Tom Sacco, chief executive of Homestyle Dining, told Nation’s Restaurant News Thursday. “We’ve been in the steakhouse business for more than 50 years, we’ve been in the salad bar business for almost 35 years. What we haven’t been in is fast casual.”

The target customers are 21 to 45 years old, significantly younger than the demographic at a typical Ponderosa or Bonanza, he said. Even the serviceware takes a youthful bent, with drinks served in red Solo cups, popularized by country music star Toby Keith, and sauces served in miniature versions.

At the new Bo’s, customers order at the counter, or an employee makes their salads to order in the line. Food is delivered to the tables. Traditional Ponderosa and Bonanza restaurants have buffet lines and self-serve salad bars.

The Bo’s unit is significantly smaller than a Ponderosa or Bonanza restaurant, said Sacco.

“A typical Ponderosa or Bonanza ran in the 5,500- to 6,000-square-foot range in the older restaurants, and the new restaurants are in the 8,000- to 10,000-square-foot range,” Sacco said.

The Bo’s unit covers 4,000 square feet, including the patio. Sacco envisions the range for future units between 2,500 and 4,000 square feet. Seating at Bo’s accommodates 75 to 125 guests, about half of what is offered at Ponderosa or Bonanza.

“It’s significantly different in size and personality,” Sacco said.

The décor has fireplaces inside and on the patio; soft, upholstered chairs; banquettes; and other features that give it “a youthful, more contemporary look,” he added.

The menu offers more on-trend items as well, including wine and beer.

Salads are 23 percent of the menu mix, Sacco said, and the salad bar offers such items as quinoa, edamame, black beans and kale.

“In the old days, kale is what you would decorate the salad bar with — not what you ate,” Sacco said, laughing.

Appetizers include candied bacon and deviled eggs, the preparation of which will change regularly.

In its first week, Bo’s top-selling item was the center-cut top sirloin, followed by the rib-eye.

Steaks range from $9.50 for a six-ounce sirloin to $13.50 for a 10-ounce sirloin, each offered with one side. Shiner Bock-marinated beer-can chicken is $9, and cilantro-lime jumbo shrimp is $13.50. Burgers are $8 to $10. Salads start at $7.50 and go up to $10. In the first week, a vegetarian portobello mushroom wrap was trending at more than 1 percent of sales, Sacco added.

Prices are comparable among all three concepts, Sacco said, but Bo’s allows for more additions.

Homestyle Dining built the Bo’s unit in a converted Juanita’s Family Mexican Restaurant. The freestanding location is sandwiched between a McDonald’s and a Taco Bell along Interstate 20 near Lindale.

“It’s really a water hole on the Interstate,” Sacco said, adding that an IHOP and a high-volume Cracker Barrel Old Country Store are across the street.

Lindale has a population of about 5,100 people.

“We specifically targeted a small town because that’s where most of the Ponderosas and Bonanzas do very well,” Sacco said. “But we’re looking to grow it outside the Ponderosa Bonanza world.”

Homestyle Dining LLC, a division of New York-based Metromedia Inc., has 242 Ponderosa and Bonanza units in the United States and abroad.

Contact Ron Ruggless at ronald.ruggless@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless