Shortly after I arrived in Charleston, I fielded a call from an aggrieved reader, who wanted to know why I never wrote about her favorite restaurant, Fatz Café. I explained which i focus primarily on locally owned, independent restaurants, which only upset her further. She’d always thought the Fatz in North Charleston was the sole Fatz in the world.
In recent years, though, fewer customers are making that mistake about the 45 restaurants within the Greenville-based chain. “Fatz got off track just a little bit,” admits marketing v . p . Zac Painter. In accordance with Painter, Fatz responded towards the recession and ensuing drop-off in casual dining traffic by diluting its homegrown Southern character.
“We became everything to everyone, because everybody was fighting over every share of stomach there is,” Painter says.
Now Fatz is attempting to reverse that trend with a new menu featuring freshly made buttermilk biscuits, pimento cheese-and-bacon jam dip plated in a skillet and Mason jar cocktails. The restaurant’s also done away with something that didn’t pass its “is it Southern?” test, including a lot of the pop music on its playlist.
“We once had an Asian chicken salad,” Painter says. “It had been a great salad, but it’s not just what a Southern kitchen would serve, so that we took it off the menu.”
Painter said customers have mostly responded positively to the changes, there is however a company process in position for working with guests who would like their Mediterranean fish or pasta back.
“Someone from our support center or regional manager personally contact(s) these to say, ‘We promise you’re going to love what we’re doing,’” he says, emphasizing quality upgrades like a move to Carolina shrimp and homemade peach preserves; the condiment is supposed to reference the converted peach shed which 29 years back housed the very first Fatz.
“From a kitchen perspective, we’re doing a lot more things in-house, so we needed to streamline the menu so that we could be really finest in class at what we should do,” Painter continues. “We necessary to get back to what Fatz Cafe Hours was approximately.”
Fatz isn’t alone in attempting to nurse an informal dining brand back to health. An oversaturated marketplace, interest in local food as well as the rise in popularity of fast casual restaurants, like Chipotle, have devastated the casual dining sector. In 2016, Logan’s Roadhouse filed for bankruptcy, while Ruby Tuesday and Bob Evans each closed a large number of locations. Earlier this season, the parent company of Carrabba’s and Bonefish Grill announced it was shuttering 43 outlets.
“It’s been rough,” Painter says. Other chains are testing rebranding hoping turning customer demographics inside their favor. A 2014 Morgan Stanley study indicated that casual dining’s “core customers” are eaters between 50 and 68, which may explain why Cracker Barrel recently rolled out Holler & Dash, an exposed brick-and-cold brew cplgty kind of concept. “We developed Holler & Dash to leverage our brand strengths, more particularly our Southern roots,” a spokeswoman told AdWeek.
Still, aging restaurant chains must also address issues that Mason jars and iron skillets can’t fix. On a recent trip to the Fatz in North Charleston, only 2 of the tables in the section where I used to be seated were occupied. Within a few minutes of my arrival, one of many parties received its entrees, including an apparently undercooked steak.