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The company is using cable TV to promote its Macaroni Grill brand, a $54 million acquisition that closed in April. The brand is large enough to support “the weight of national cable TV, which means we are in control of brand awareness and we are in control of brand relevance,” said Blanchette.

The chain recently began airing commercials for its “Summer Uncorked” promotion. “We’re so passionate about bringing wine and food back together in this brand, we are literally selling all of our wine for half price all summer,” Blanchette said, adding that it positions Macaroni Grill out of a “sea of sameness,” including discounted multi-course offerings or buy-one-get-one promotions.

The brand is differentiated with its wine offerings, he added, noting that Ignite has hired a new wine manager for all the brands. “We’re going to get very aggressive,” he said.

Macaroni Grill, before its acquisition, had seen average unit volumes slip to $2.1 million, which Blanchette linked to the absence of TV advertising for a year. He said that Ignite, as a publicly held restaurant company rather than a private equity owner, sees marketing as an investment, not just an expense.

“[Macaroni Grill’s AUV] didn’t go from $3.4 million to $2.1 [million] overnight,” he cautioned. “It doesn’t need to go back from $2.1 [million] overnight. The good news for our shareholders is that as this business improves, they get the benefit of the entire ride up.”

While largely a suburban concept, Ignite’s Joe’s Crab Shack will be opening its first New York City store in July at 125th  Street and 8th Avenue in Harlem. Blanchette said that while the move doesn’t indicate a larger strategy of going into densely populated urban areas, the company also has plans to open in a new commercial real estate project in downtown Newark, N.J.

Ignite owns and operates 133 Joe's Crab Shacks, 186 Romano's Macaroni Grills and 16 Brick House Tavern + Taps. It franchises 12 Romano's Macaroni Grills in the United States and Puerto Rico and franchises 12 added units throughout nine nations.

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