June 20, 2024


Simply The Best Food

New Friendly’s CEO guarantees ‘recipe for success’ at restaurant chain that has steadily shrunk for decades

6 min read

Who is heading to swoop in and help save the working day for Friendly’s?


Not the man of metal. The ice product flavor identified as Superman, which guarantees vanilla furthermore yellow, red and blue fruit flavors.

Thanks out March 15, Superman ice cream is the very first of what new CEO Craig Erlich guarantees will be periodic refreshes of the Friendly’s cafe menu, with new ice product flavors paired with returning most loved food items items. From March to June, Asian hen salad and Buffalo rooster salad will return, along with the Heinz 57 burger and the Vermonter burger.

It is all element of the newest try to reinvigorate a brand name that has struggled for a long time below distinct entrepreneurs and from other fast-everyday loved ones cafe chains like Applebee’s and TGI Fridays.

And it will come as corporations adapt to the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted federal government orders quickly closing dining establishments and substantially altering how they serve customers.


Craig Erlich, President and CEO of Amici Companions and its affiliated enterprise BRIX Holdings, LLC.

Erlich is president and CEO and an investor in new Friendly’s owner Amici Associates and its affiliated enterprise, Brix Holdings LLC.

The Friendly’s cafe business was marketed to Amici Partners very last month out of a personal bankruptcy continuing, with a sale price tag of $1.9 million. That’s a pittance when compared to the $337.2 million cost when Friendly’s bought to Sunlight Cash in 2007.

But that was right before Sunshine Money divested by itself of substantially of what utilized to be Friendly’s. Sunlight marketed off serious estate like the ice product plant and office developing in Wilbraham, as properly as the overall Friendly’s enterprise producing ice product for its places to eat and for sale in supermarkets.

Friendly’s below Sunlight Money went via one more personal bankruptcy in 2011 that wiped away $297 million in personal debt and resulted in the closing or additional than 100 of its dining places.

The chain was founded by brothers Curtis and S. Prestley Blake in the summertime of 1935 in Springfield’s Pine Place community. Curtis Blake died in 2019 at age 102. Erlich said Friday that he has not spoken with Pres Blake, who is 106 and lives in Connecticut.

Friendly's co-founder Curtis Blake

Blake brothers Curtis, left, and S. Prestley at the Style of Springfield in 1985.The Republican file

Friendly’s has shrunk substantially over the several years, from 850 dining establishments in 15 states at its height in 1996 to 137 dining establishments in 12 states nowadays. It has 1,300 employees.

In one of its early moves, Amici moved Friendly’s headquarters to its workplaces in Dallas, Texas, and Prolonged Island, New York.

Erlich mentioned some of the corporate workers brought around from the previous Friendly’s possession — people functioning from house now since of the pandemic — will keep at the office in Wilbraham.

The most current bankruptcy method allowed Sunshine Capital to expedite its sale of the chain and not be pressured to negotiate with collectors that hold liens on Friendly’s property. It adopted approximately a 12 months of negotiations concerning Solar Capital and Amici, in accordance to courtroom papers. The sale closed at the finish of December.

Amici’s other models are Crimson Mango Yogurt Café & Juice Bar, Smoothie Manufacturing facility Juice Bar, Redrick Pizza Kitchen area Cafe and Souper Salad.

All surviving Friendly’s eating places — 51 company places and 86 franchises — will stay, Erlich stated. But they might move inside their industry due to serious estate desires or shifting market place circumstances.

He reported his new management workforce is operating intently with Dairy Farmers of The us. That firm just lately acquired Dean Food items, which bought the Friendly’s ice product production and distribution enterprise in 2016 for $155 million in income. Dairy Farmers of The usa operates the Friendly’s ice cream plant in Wilbraham.

“My men and women are on the cellphone with them all the time,” Erlich mentioned.

In the eating places, Erlich stated he and his workforce know they have to deal with Friendly’s sluggish status and velocity up company. That will mean new know-how and rearranging kitchen area tools, he stated. It also signifies planning menus so substances and procedures have extra than one particular use.

And there are the plans for new ice product offerings. This summer’s flavor will be Summer Breeze, with a lemon taste and a graham cracker caramel swirl. It will be paired with what Erlich described as a “seafood extravaganza.”

“Every time that we launch a new campaign, we’ll have a new ice product flavor released with it,” he mentioned. “We felt that our system forward had a recipe for achievements for 2021.”

And past.

“Our technique is crafted from 2021 via the following a few to five to 12 many years,” he mentioned.

Past management teams have tried using — and deserted — comparable measures to rejuvenate the manufacturer, together with lesser mini-Friendly’s dining establishments, fast-provide locations with walk-up counters and, briefly, Friendly’s with beer and wine.

They are options Sunshine Cash described in a modern personal bankruptcy submitting, admitting it “encountered a lot of of the similar performance concerns faced by the speedy-casual eating sector as a complete, such as considerable headwinds triggered by shifting demographics, enhanced competitors and soaring fees.”

The paragraph concludes: ”The business, which constantly missing money, relied on borrowings … as the only way to maintain operations.”

So Friendly’s — born in the Good Depression simply because the Blake brothers’ feared they would not be ready to get summer season work — is reinventing itself through a new economic crisis.

“If you are a sitting duck, you get strike,” reported Atul Sheel, associate division chair and associate professor of hospitality and tourism management at the College of Massachusetts Amherst. “All of the restaurant chains are limping. It’s not just Friendly’s.”

But Friendly’s was hurting just before COVID-19. There is the prevalent impression among consumers that time has passed it by, Sheel stated.

“The client is generally hunting for a thing new,” he stated. “That’s why McDonalds is always coming out with new menu items.”

The pandemic only accelerated tendencies — curbside pickup, on the web buying, shipping and delivery — that existed right before 2020. Erlich said Friendly’s desires to do a far better work on all these fronts and reported a new app — smartphone software, not appetizer — is on the way.

Erlich also promised other advancements. Only a dozen Friendly’s have drive-thru home windows now. That variety, he hopes, will rise.

Stephen Clark, vice president of governing administration affairs for the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, stated it is anticipated that 3,400 to 4,000 places to eat throughout the point out will soon near or have now closed due to the pandemic. That works out to 22% or 23% of the 16,000 eating places the condition experienced at the beginning of March 2020.

“I do believe there is a sense of optimism,” Clark claimed.

Extra people are finding coronavirus vaccines. The state is heading into a period wherever there will be the chance for far more out of doors eating. Clark claimed there will be pent-up demand after the virus eases.

“People come to feel cooped up,” he said. “Not absolutely everyone can get on an plane, but everybody can go to their neighborhood cafe.”

And that features Friendly’s. Like a ton of New Englanders, Clark not only ate at Friendly’s, but also worked there as his very first occupation.

“I was an ice cream scooper in West Roxbury,” he said.

Erlich claimed his 5th birthday party was at a Friendly’s. He mentioned he needs far more youngsters to have the same memory.

“We are pretty excited about the future,” he claimed. “The group is passionate about transferring us forward.”

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