Quiznos is planning the national rollout next week of a new line of Toasty Pastas that in tests have helped build traffic at dinner and on weekends.

The new menu platform offers franchisees an opportunity to attract a broader audience using ingredients that are already in house, although the pasta itself is a new item, said Susan Lintonsmith, Quiznos chief marketing officer.

About half of the chain’s 1,450 domestic locations are offering the pastas this week as operators throughout the almost all-franchised system train and prepare for the national rollout scheduled for Feb. 24.

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Quiznos’ Toasty Pastas platform will initially include six types of baked pastas, all starting at the recommended price of $4.99.

The rollout will be supported by a national print campaign, which will also highlight the return of a lobster-and-seafood protein option — actually lobster mixed with white pollock — which will be available for a limited time on a sub or as a salad. The lobster-seafood has been a popular premium item featured during the Lenten season over the past two years.

Among the macaroni-and-cheese dishes is one mixed with chunks of lobsterThe menu moves comes as the Denver-based sandwich chain attempts another restructuring after changing hands in a debt-for-equity swap in 2012 that shifted ownership to New York hedge fund Avenue Capital Group. The 2012 restructuring kept the chain out of bankruptcy court, and the hedge fund cleared about a third of Quiznos’ then $870 million debt load.

After reportedly missing payment on a loan, Quiznos in December confirmed that it had negotiated a forbearance agreement that would give the chain liquidity as it worked with lenders to restructure some or all of its remaining debt.

While Quiznos has been growing aggressively overseas with a goal of reaching 1,000 international locations by 2020, the sandwich chain has shrunk in the U.S., ending 2013 with a domestic store count of 1,450, down from 1,930 at the end of fiscal 2012.

Franchisees have also launched several rounds of lawsuits in recent years, arguing that the business model is broken. A common theme among the lawsuits is the complaint that Quiznos marks up food and supplies that franchisees are contractually obligated to buy from the franchisor’s supply arm.

The company has declined to comment on the litigation, and Lintonsmith said she could not comment on the restructuring efforts, except to say that the company is working with its partners to establish a framework that will position the chain and its franchisees for future success.

A closer look at the menu move

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The new pasta line is the boldest menu addition Quiznos has attempted under its current ownership. With the move, Quiznos joins limited-service players like bakery-café competitor Panera Bread and the sandwich chain Earl of Sandwich, both of which rolled out new pasta lines last year.

The platform is based on a new SKU: a pre-cooked cavatappi, or corkscrew shaped, pasta that will come into the restaurants frozen and can be reheated with the various sauces. No new equipment is necessary.

The macaroni and cheese, for example, which is topped with a new sauce made with Romano, Parmesan, provolone and fontina cheese, will be available three ways: classic; with bacon; and with the lobster-seafood topping while that LTO is available. The three macaroni-and-cheese options are topped with housemade breadcrumbs and run through the oven to “toast.”

Quiznos chicken-pesto pastaA marinara pasta is topped with a light basil marinara sauce and topped with either meatballs or sausage — both existing ingredients — and a cheese blend before being toasted in the oven.

A chicken-pesto pasta option is topped with the existing ingredients of chicken and pesto sauce, tossed with a new mix of balsamic-marinated diced tomatoes. The pesto is also topped with cheese before toasting.

Lintonsmith said Quiznos tested the pastas in two markets: Minneapolis and San Diego. Test units found that the pastas brought in more traffic at dinner and on the weekends.

“It was a frequency driver, bringing in new guests but it’s also great for addressing the veto vote, or the person who just doesn’t want a sub, but might want pasta,” she said. “It’s also great for kids. For dinner and for weekends, it will help reach a broader family audience.”

The pastas fit within the sandwich chain’s positioning of offering high-quality ingredients, she said. And because the noodles work so well with a number of the chain’s existing ingredients, there is plenty of room for menu extension.

“The cavatappi gives some legs to get into sides and catering with family sizes,” she said. “We have so many high-quality ingredients that could be put on the pasta.”

With the new platform, however, Quiznos has also done some streamlining of the menu, which Lintonsmith said was part of ongoing initiatives to simplify some processes. “We’re working with our franchisees and the operations team on that,” she said.

After announcing the rollout to franchisees last week, some had questions on procedures, said Lintonsmith, adding that the feedback from franchisees about the new platform so far has been positive.

Contact Lisa Jennings at lisa.jennings@penton.com.
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout