Rising Roll Gourmet used to be all about lunch. But with catering now accounting for a third of systemwide sales, the fast-casual chain is expanding itsand dinner options, as well as changing its criteria for site selection.
“All of our catering has been typically right off of our restaurant menu,” said David Smith, chief operating officer of the chain's Atlanta-based parent company, Rising Roll Franchising Concepts LLC. But now, the company is experimenting in its corporate-owned location in Atlanta with items specifically intended for catering.
“We’re trying to gain more revenue by extending our dayparts and extending into a whole new business that we’ve never been in, and that’s hot catering,” Smith said. “Even more than hot sandwiches, we’re going into testing of hot entrées and hot side dishes,” he added. “We’re hoping to get our catering customers to order one more time a week and build our revenue that way.”
For example, a limited-time offering on the restaurant menu this spring is a grilled asparagus wrap. For that item, asparagus and roasted red peppers are topped with an ancho chipotle sauce and rolled in a sun-dried tomato and basil wrap. It’s available through the end of May for a suggested price of $6.95.
“We want to make more use of that grilled asparagus,” Smith said. So the company has experimented with topping it and the peppers with Parmesan cheese and a blended Italian dressing, baking it and offering it on their dinner catering menu as a “grilled asparagus steak.”
Another new catering option is macaroni and cheese withand guacamole, available in eight-, 12- and 16-ounce cups for $3.29, $4.29 and $5.29, respectively, on the catering menu of the corporate store.
“We plan to roll it out to the franchise system by the end of May,” he said.
Smith said he is also working on three projects on university campuses, a demographic departure from the company’s base of lunchtime office workers. “These [locations] would be opened until 2 in the morning, and most [Rising Roll Gourmets] close at 2 in the afternoon,” he noted.
To accommodate the new hours and demographic, the company is working on late-night, college-student-friendly food, such as a three-cheese mac and cheese with grilled, ancho chipotle sauce and chopped roasted red peppers.
Smith said the chicken in that item is the same as in the whole-muscle breast used for lunchtime salads, sandwiches and panini. For the catering menu he’s experimenting with flavoring it with pesto, rolling it in breadcrumbs and baking it.
Smith said the expansion beyond lunch is also extending to breakfast. Although some Rising Roll Gourmet locations have been offering breakfast for as long as four years — and since 2008 criteria for site selection for new locations has included being a good venue for the morning daypart — he said the company is conducting a test with a national retail coffee brand and might bring it in systemwide.
So far, the addition of that brand, which he wouldn’t name, has resulted in higher coffee sales at the test location, “and it will also build our reputation for breakfast,” he said.
The chain’s adaptations since the economy soured were intended to give it a leg up when it’s time to expand again, Smith added. “We want to be poised for some real growth when the lending environment warrants it,” he said.
There are currently 14 Rising Roll Gourmet locations open in Georgia, Texas and Colorado. The company is currently developing eight retail and express locations, and is planning for an additional 15 traditional retail restaurants and 29 nontraditional locations to open by the end of 2015.