Last Friday, the Marlborough family happened upon the soft opening for staff training when looking for a quick bite. The restaurant officially opened Monday, with a grand opening scheduled for Nov. 13. The first 50 customers will receive a year’s supply of free Fribble shakes.
“When you walk in the door you’re greeted,” Fretz said. “I’ve been here three times, and they already know my name.”
Located in the city’s much-anticipated Apex Center, the new prototype for Friendly’s includes modern decor, bright colors, outlets for cellphones and laptops, and even a drive-thru window. The Apex Center when finished will feature an entertainment center, restaurants, offices and hotels.
Seven years ago, Fretz, who grew up in Missouri, went to a Friendly’s for the first time with his mother-in-law, Patricia. For the two of them, the Sudbury Friendly’s became a regular spot for meals and ice cream before it closed in 2015.
Fretz visited the new Marlborough location twice Monday, once for breakfast and once for ice cream with his wife, Laura.
“He had been checking online. He couldn’t wait for it to open,” Laura Fretz said. “It’s Friendly’s, you can’t help but be happy.”
In 1935, brothers Prestley and Curtis Blake opened the first Friendly’s with double-dip cones for 5 cents in Springfield, according to its website.
In 2011, the Wilbraham-based company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and closed 63 restaurants in 11 states. The company aimed to emerge stronger and more competitive through the restructuring, according to a company press release. Besides Sudbury, other Friendly’s closed in Framingham, Westboro and Shrewsbury in recent years.
The chain, however, is reinventing itself.
“I know neighbors were itching for us to come back,” said Jean Sloan, general manager of the new location, who has been with the company for about 20 years.
Carrie Smith, director of operations for the chain, said the drive-thru features a limited menu, that includes burgers, melts, chicken fingers and ice cream, among other menu items.
“It is still the same food, but we can cook it faster because we have new equipment, so it is still fresh,” she said.
While there are nine other Friendly’s with drive-thru windows, Marlborough is the first of its kind.
“We are the only one like this,” Smith said. “It’s a brand new prototype. This is the future of Friendly’s”
The plan is to expand the concept for both corporate restaurants and franchisees. The chain has more than 250 stores in 15 states.
The menu features five items for $5.55.
“It feels great,” Sloan said of the opening. “We put in a lot of work, and it is paying off. Everyone is happy. Everyone is excited.”
During a family and friends training on Friday night, the restaurant raised about $1,400 for the the Boys & Girls Club of America. The restaurant hired more than 100 people, many high school students from Marlborough.
Sloan said the drive-thru is catching on and is on pace with the other restaurants. It will be convenient come winter, Tony Fretz said.
“I can’t wait for 3 feet of snow on the ground and being able to go through the drive-thru to get my banana split,” he said.
Address: 157 Apex Drive
Hours: Sunday-Thursday dine-in, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, dine-in 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. The drive-thru is open until midnight every night.
Grand opening specials*
$3 large sundae week
$2 Cheeseburgers and fries all week (dine in or drive-thru)
Nov. 13, 7 a.m. – First 50 guests will receive a year’s supply of Fribble shakes
Free kids meal with adult meal purchase all week
* Deals continue until the end of the year, go to friendlysrestaurants.com/locate/marlborough-opening/