A Games and Food Prototype:
New Florida Johnny Rockets Blasts Off Toward Fun

Times and tastes change and smart businesses adapt to those shifts.  Today’s consumers are increasingly looking for multiple experiences.  Consistent with that trend, Johnny Rockets franchise owners Kyle and Ken Eldridge have teamed up with a leading game room provider to offer not only great food, but a fun-filled arcade featuring over 180 games as well.  The addition of a sports bar and event rooms takes the concept to a whole new level because the combination of fun and food gives everyone a reason to visit.
Located in the Sawgrass Mills mall – the second largest shopping mall in the United States – in Sunrise, Fla., it’s the first Johnny Rockets to shift to the expanded concept.  But if the prototype move is as successful as anticipated, there is plenty of potential for future efforts.  After all, the classic all-American food chain has about 25 corporate-owned and 275 franchised locations around the world.  They provide food, fun and friendliness reminiscent of feel-good Americana, serving more than 13 million hamburgers to their guests every year.
“Our new Sawgrass Mills restaurant is the largest Johnny Rockets restaurant in the world,” said Kyle Eldridge, who along with Ken Eldridge, owns 12 Johnny Rockets franchises in south Florida.  He added, “In addition to its size, it’s also different since it features a sports bar because we are trying to attract more than just families.  The bar has more than 30 high-definition televisions for things like football games.  It’s something for everyone.”
The mall, which attracts about 26 million visitors a year, presented the perfect environment for the venture.  Eldridge said, “The opportunity came up where we were invited to look at the game room deal, which attracts adolescents, young adults and young families so it was a no brainer for us.  It’s the first time a Johnny Rockets has been connected to a family entertainment center.”
In addition, it adds a new dimension to their operations.  As Eldridge noted, “It gives us two party rooms to host corporate and family gatherings.  We have created attractive packages, for things like birthday parties for 10 or more, and we are currently working on a corporate menu that will go out to companies to attract them to host events here.  We have TVs in the rooms and they are mounted higher than normal.  So, in the case of corporations who want to have a seminar or something like that, they can use them for presentations.”
The innovative business arrangement to operate the 20,000-square-foot site – with 6,000 square feet allocated to the restaurant and 14,000 square feet for the arcade and party rooms – involves a team consisting of Johnny Rockets, PrimeTime Amusements and a game room partner.  PrimeTime is an industry leading global operator and provider of video arcade machines and simulators.  Ron Mogerman, the game room partner, also brings an extraordinary level of experience to the enterprise, being the former owner of the largest arcade in the United States.
“We are coexisting as one venue to the public’s eye, but we have two different P&Ls,” said David Goldfarb, PrimeTime’s president and owner.
Since the game room operations include the party rooms, Mogerman handles the promotion and booking.  According to Eldridge, “He has hired a party planner coordinator named Dorothy Lewis and she is very well versed at getting the word out and getting corporations to book.  She is really helping us.”  To date, the largest event they have hosted was for 90 participants.
Eldridge further noted, “Typically I would say offhand that a consumer booking a party or special event would save about 25 percent on food and game combinations by booking their party ahead of time and with the right amount of people.”
He added, “We have been approved by Johnny Rockets corporate to add a few items to the menu.  Specifically, we have pizza and a couple of new appetizers we are trying to fit into the sports bar theme, including nachos and mozzarella sticks.”
He continued, “We serve good food that is fun; for example, we have awesome spiral potatoes called ‘potato passes.’  We place a potato on a skewer and have a machine that cuts it into a spiral without a break.  It’s all one piece and then we serve it on a really cool platter.”
No detail has been ignored.  Creative architectural features, for example, have helped them incorporate the new feel and elements into their operation.  “Surrounding the bar we have a huge quilted stainless steel wall that is very attractive,” said Eldridge.  “In the entrance we have custom tile work with our logo embossed into the tile with lights shining on it.  It looks absolutely phenomenal.”
But the touches go beyond the entrance and bar.  Said Eldridge, “We had custom tables made with our logo.  They are 32-inch round tables and are actually made to look like an old record album.  In the center is our logo, so that really goes well with the 1950s and 1960s theme we try and model ourselves after.  It’s very unique and modern, yet retro, which brings you back to the Johnny Rockets era.  It’s really a good mix for the type of venue we offer.  It’s a Johnny Rockets, but a little bit different because it’s designed for a sports bar as well.  And, it really highlights the main dining area.”
He indicated that they don’t sell branded and name-dropped merchandise like T-shirts yet, but will.  He said they are not planning to have a separate store, but to incorporate the sale of such items into the main dining room, perhaps at the hostess stand.
Yet, being innovative doesn’t mean that the Eldridges have forgotten their roots.  As Kyle Eldridge noted, “We tried not to lose where we came from so we created something that is modern, yet retro. Our client base is a combination of locals and tourists.  Tourists, especially those from other countries, really like Johnny Rockets because it brings them the 1950s and 1960s Americana that they have seen in movies.”
In the end, though, as with most business enterprises, it still comes back to the basics.  As Eldridge noted, “You have to really know your demographics.  For us in Florida it all depends on the location.  Here, for example, Sawgrass Mills has a large number of tourist shoppers and since we are right next to a movie theater it has a large local population as well.”
He added, “Regardless of which type of guest, though, the heart and soul of our operation is customer service and giving people an experience in the dining room.  We are not just a restaurant.  We sing.  We dance.  We give kids balloons and hats.  It’s a place where a couple can go and have a good time – maybe they have a drink and some food – while the kids are entertained and having a great time in the game room.  So the experience includes both the dining room and the game room.  And, as we all know, happy kids mean relaxed and happy parents.”
He observed that, “Even in this economy people are still willing to spend money if they feel they are getting value and fun out of it.  They are just a little more selective of how they do it.  People who ate out twice a week are now maybe eating out once a week, but they are still doing it.  We need to give them a good time.  I tell my staff if they think for one minute they can go over to a table and just take their order and then hand them food and drink they are dead wrong if they think those guests are going to become regulars.  Just food and drinks are not good enough anymore.  We need to bring something more to the table.  We need to give them a fun experience.”
Eldridge noted the real secret to their bottom line is delivering consistent quality.  He said, “We don’t skimp on quality and provide great customer service.  These are really the only two things you have to worry about.  If you can accomplish those and you haven’t made the worst real estate decision in the world, then you are going to be successful.  That’s really what it comes down to.  When times get tough, as they have in the last couple of years, there are plenty of opportunities for restaurants to cut some corners.  We didn’t and we found ourselves not struggling as much as some others.  We attribute that to making sure we remember what got us here when we started with one restaurant over 20 years ago.”
He said that it starts from the top on down.  “We strive to have management check in on every guest.  I think a manager can solve a lot more issues if he or she is asking instead of being called over when there is a problem.  So that’s what we try to do every day.  We don’t succeed every day, but we try every day.  And, I think customers see and reward that.”
According to Eldridge, “It’s part of what works for us.  We have all 12 of our restaurants within 37 miles of each other, which is nice because we get to see them all the time.  It gets a little more difficult to run restaurants when you are taking a plane and traveling.  We like it here in Florida and are planning five more restaurants, but that doesn’t mean in the future we won’t expand past that if the right opportunity comes to us.” -

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