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Nostalgic chain seeks growth

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  • | 1:38 p.m. April 2, 2012
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Poodle skirts and jukeboxes are on the way back to the Gulf Coast with 5 & Diner, a Worcester, Mass.-based restaurant chain.

The 1950s and '60s themed diners, with one Florida location, in Orlando, will target the St.Petersburg-Clearwater-Tampa area for expansion. Owner and CEO Bob Watson says a Florida expansion is the right move because of the obvious demographic pull: The chain, with menu items that include Mrs. Cleaver's Pot Roast, the Big Bopper Burger and Cadillac Meatloaf, is a gas for people over 50.

“It gives people the feeling of walking back in time,” Watson tells Coffee Talk. “Florida has a lot of people who can remember the '50s and '60s, and do so with a good deal of pleasure.”

The first 5 & Diner opened in Phoenix in 1999. Watson and his wife, Laurie Watson, bought a 5 & Diner franchise in 2006 in Worcester. The Watsons, who also operate an employee cafeteria food service business with clients in nine states, acquired the entire 12-store 5 & Diner company in 2008. “When we bought it,” says Watson, “we had the idea of expanding right away.”

But the recession, which crumpled franchise-based financing, delayed those plans. Watson thinks the time is now right to grow, and he hopes to have five Florida stores open by the end of the year. He has met with potential franchisees and scouted locations. He's also looked at sites in the Delray Beach-Palm Beach area, in addition to the Gulf Coast.

The average annual sales volume of a 5 & Diner is $1.1 million, the company says. Development costs for a potential franchisee range from $450,000 to $750,000. While most current locations stand alone, Watson says in Florida he'd like to open some franchise-based units in strip malls or Publix-anchored centers, to cut down on construction costs. Five Guys Burgers and Fries, which recently expanded on the Gulf Coast, uses a similar franchise model.

“We want (a franchisee) with a passion for a diner,” Watson says. “It's not a Capital Grille. It's a diner.”


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