Consolidated Restaurant Operations Inc. is expanding its El Chico rebranding program, begun last year, to more existing restaurants and new units.

The 73-year-old Tex-Mex brand launched the rebranding last fall in a 1989-built unit in Rockwall, Texas, as well as a franchise unit in Texarkana, Texas, company executives said.

“Before it was a brick façade and sort of dated in the late-‘80s timeframe. It went to a retro logo and branding. It’s a fresh white palette,” said John D. Harkey Jr., chairman and chief executive of Dallas-based CRO, which also owns the Cantina Laredo, III Forks and other restaurant brands. “We streamlined [the design]. It’s more minimalist,” he added.

The new design also features a second patio with access to the inside bar area, communal tables, corrugated metal awnings, more televisions, Texas-themed landscaping and new server uniforms that are more casual with stone-washed retro T-shirts.


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Bill Watson, CRO’s vice president of marketing, said the menu design is retro as well. “We went back into the archive of menu designs, and found one from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s and brought that back to life,” he said.

Some menu additions include fried avocado wedges, which “were a staple 25 years ago,” he said, and an array of tacos that can be ordered a la carte or in combinations. Menu inserts also accommodate seasonal items, such as the Chicken Mango Cobb Salad with avocado, greens and cotija cheese-mango vinaigrette in a sundried tomato tortilla shell for $9.79.

Kitchen equipment has also been expanded, Watson said. “We added a next generation tortilla press, so we can do our own tortillas to order, and we’re adding that to more locations and in conjunction with future revitalization efforts.”

Costs of the remodels are between $100,000 to $400,000, depending on the extent.

Sales and guests counts at the remodeled restaurants “are up in the double digits consistently,” said Harkey.

Alcohol sales have also increased as much as 50 percent, he said, with the addition of the second patio that faces an indoor-outdoor bar. “That expands the use of the bar for happy hour and weekend entertaining,” he noted.

Typical El Chico units cover 6,000 square feet and offer 200 to 220 seats. The remodeled unit has increased seating by about 60.

El Chico has 53 units in the United States, 37 of them company-owned and 16 franchised, as well as five units in the Middle East.

The company is about to start remodels at units in Wichita Falls and North Richland Hills, Texas, according to Harkey.

The new look is also being employed in units that CRO partners are developing in the Middle East. A fourth El Chico unit opened in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, just before Labor Day, and the company has development agreements with several partners for 40 restaurants in the region.

CRO has 114 restaurants, including the Black Oak Grill, Cool River Café, Silver Fox, Good Eats and Lucky's brands.

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