MASSLIVE.COM – Sporting a drive-through window, Friendly’s is about to open its second new restaurant in a year.
The restaurant, to open Nov. 6 at the Apex Center in Marlborough, is the prototype for a new concept for the Massachusetts-based chain. The company will begin retrofitting restaurants with the new look and adding drive-throughs at 10 existing locations. All new locations will feature drive-throughs as well.
More importantly, however, the move goes hand-in-hand with the company’s ongoing effort to return to basics and reinvigorate the iconic brand following a decade of store closures. The Marlborough location marks the second new store opening this year (the other one is in Merrimack, New Hampshire). Friendly’s President and CEO John Maguire says the company expects to be opening between five and 10 new restaurants a year by 2019.
It’s been a busy past five years for Maguire.
“We’ve done a lot of work on the quality of our food — never frozen burgers, real ice cream in our Fribble shakes,” Maguire said. “The next thing we really did was focus on remodeling our restaurants.”
The new restaurant look features plenty of Friendly’s bright red color throughout and incorporates a newly-designed soda fountain area in addition to the drive-throughs. Gone are the days when the chain tried to expand its menu to reach every pallet and cuisine from Italian to seafood. The new menu is focused on the stuff that Maguire says made the restaurant great — burgers, fries, supermelts and ice cream. In addition, the chain is lowering its prices — it now offers seven meals on its $5.55 menu.
“We’re now at the next step, which is start to open some new restaurants,” Maguire said. “We’re going to start to grow.”
The company currently has about 250 restaurants from Maine to Florida and as far west as Pennsylvania. They are a mix of company-owned and franchise locations.
Maguire says the company is now looking closely at the locations it places its restaurants.
The new Marlborough store is located at the Apex Center, a mixed-use development consisting of a 150,000-square-foot entertainment complex, retail shops, two new hotels and six new restaurants, of which Friendly’s is one.
“It’s got a lot of kid’s activities so it’s the perfect place for us to put a new Friendly’s,” Maguire said.
The shift toward opening new restaurants is in sharp contrast to store closings the company announced before emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2011. In that year the company announced the closure of 63 locations, each employing about 20 people.
Maguire says anywhere the company is closing restaurants these days it’s for one of two reasons — either the lease is up and the landlord wants to do something different with the space or it’s in a location where the market for dining has up and moved.
Other changes the company has made includes the introduction of online ordering. And in the company’s Gardner and Leominster locations Maguire says the company has been experimenting with delivery as well.
But for the Wilbraham-based company founded in 1935 by brothers S. Prestley and Curtis Blake, Maguire says the experience customers have when they visit carries the most value.
“My dream for Friendly’s is very simple,” Maguire said. “When our people are driving to work, they just ask themselves a very simple question, ‘How am I going to be friendly today?’ We don’t cure cancer, we don’t send people to space, but we do have the power to make small differences in people’s lives.”
Founder S. Prestley Blake will celebrate his 103 birthday on Nov. 15. Friendly’s in the Greater Springfield area will offer burgers for $1.03 in his honor on that day.
This article by Noah Bombard originally appeared here.