Bob & Edith’s Diner, an iconic Washington, D.C. eatery beloved by celebrities and locals alike, recently opened its 5th corporate location at 5050 Lee Highway in Arlington, despite COVID-19-related delays. The new location welcomed more customers than anticipated in its first week (both on- and off-premise), highlighting the concept’s popularity and cult-like following in D.C. and surrounding areas.
The new location has special significance to owner Greg Bolton. “My dad worked at this very location 65 years ago, before he opened the first Bob & Edith’s Diner,” he said. “I worked at this location when I was 17, and now my kids and grandkids will own the location where their grandfather once worked.”
The 50-year-old, family-owned and operated business traditionally thrived off dine-in sales, and had to make operational changes to adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic. The diner made a quick and crucial pivot to implement new technology, update packaging to better accommodate pickup and delivery, create a digital-friendly menu, and utilize third-party delivery apps. Today, they are operating at 50% dine-in sales and 50% off-premise sales.
Bob & Edith’s Diner is partnered with Fransmart, the industry leading franchise development company behind the explosive growth of brands like Five Guys Burgers & Fries and QDOBA Mexican Grill, as their exclusive franchise development partner to grow the brand.
The concept is actively looking for experienced multi-unit foodservice operators to develop additional franchises in major markets across the United States.
Franchise Chatter (FC): Why did you decide to franchise?
Greg Bolton (GB): We have been in business for 50 years and we have four strong locations with a fifth location opened recently and decided now was the best time to share our brand with the nation and take it to the next level.
FC: What is your long-term plan for continued growth?
GB: We are planning to expand in the D.C. Metro area and surrounding states, then down the east coast, and finally expanding out west. With our small and flexible footprint, we know a Bob and Edith’s Diner would be great to place in all airports across the U.S.
FC: What was it like opening a new location amid a pandemic?
GB: It’s been challenging to hire new staff, and we had to space our booths apart and close down our countertop seating, which customers love to sit at and watch the cooks. We were unable to hold a grand opening due to social distancing guidelines, but still enjoyed a strong opening week. It was different than opening our other locations, but locals and regulars have come in and really enjoyed the food and new location.
FC: How have you been able to effectively respond to the challenges of COVID-19?
GB: We made updates to our off-premise packaging to keep the food hot and fresh, created a personalized app through ChowNow that allows us to keep 100% of our proceeds while keeping our in-house dining pricing for customers. We also created a digital-friendly menu for our on-premise customers to use.
FC: How did you handle the increase of takeout orders?
GB: Our to-go orders have increased to 50% of our sales which is amazing, but it did require us to change our model quickly. We increased our supply of upgraded delivery packaging and rearranged our BOH (back of house) by adding a designated delivery/take-out area to effectively package orders.
FC: What is your secret to maintaining customer loyalty for 50 years?
GB: It’s simple really, consistently great food, excellent customer service, and our veteran staff.
FC: Do you wish you would have started franchising sooner?
GB: No, I feel waiting until now allowed us to really polish our four locations to our high standards. It was the right move.
FC: What sets you apart from other diners?
GB: The soul of our business is what sets us apart. It is evident as soon as you walk in the building, the classic American comfort food being cooked in front of you in a 50’s style environment is representative of the original Bob & Edith’s Diner and the history we represent.
FC: Why should potential franchisees choose Bob & Edith’s Diner?
GB: We offer an excellent product. We are original and give that 50’s diner feel that has not been offered in years as a franchise. We know our food and concept could go global. Our unit economics are leagues above the rest and easily available in a conversion location.
FC: Why did you choose to partner with Fransmart?
GB: Dan Rowe, the CEO of Fransmart, has been wanting to work with us for years and we always believed that he would do great things with the brand, but the timing just wasn’t right. Fransmart’s track record speaks for itself; for example, Five Guys was the same size and created in the same area that we are now. He helped them grow to the massive national chain that they are now and that is our goal as well. We will be the next big national Americana Breakfast chain.