Frisch's Big Boy evolves, like the restaurant chain he represents

Marketing exec: We considered tattoos
Posted at 3:20 PM, Jun 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-29 08:14:28-04

CINCINNATI -- It’s the first major branding change in more than 40 years for the iconic Frisch’s Restaurant chain.

The new Big Boy has lost some weight and ditched the burger. He also looks you straight in the eye, instead of that downward glance where it’s not clear exactly what caught his attention. Other than that, new Big Boy looks pretty much the same as the character they call “heritage” Big Boy.

“We don’t want to overhaul Big Boy. We just wanted to freshen him up,” said Frisch’s CEO Jason Vaughn. “Every brand grows and changes.”

It’s part of a broader evolution, including new menu items, store redesigns, new uniforms and even new plates and flatware that will be rolled out to 120 Frisch’s Big Boy restaurants in the coming years.

A private equity firm from Atlanta, NRD Capital, has been working on the changes for the last 10 months. It will test customer response to new restaurant designs at Frisch’s Covington location, where it recently hired 30 new employees and debuted a new store design Tuesday. The plan is to take changes slow, introducing new menu items and keeping what works, while maintaining the double deckers, pies and onion rings that made Frisch’s Big Boy a beloved brand in Cincinnati.

“We want to be careful,” Vaughn said. “We’re letting the consumer to tell us what we should keep on the menu and what we should take off. We’re doing a lot of surveys.”

Frisch's brand spelled out at Covington entrance

The changes in Frisch’s Covington store are pervasive, with a red, white and gray color scheme that’s brighter than previous store interiors, with clean lines and lots of natural light.

Replacing those fixtures are sleek countertops and pictures of food that’s prepared locally and made fresh every day. The rebranding effort includes food wrappers with fun facts about Frisch’s ice chips and a new coffee cup that emphasizes the new Colombian beans the company is buying for its Red Cup Signature coffee.

The rebranding effort also includes uniforms. White shirt collars for the wait staff, T-Shirts to keep the kitchen staff cooler and Polo shirts for the drive-through team.

Even the Pepsi order is evolving, as Frisch’s re-engages its customers on the age-old debate of which cola brand better complements its burgers-and-fries cuisine.

“We have a new menu item coming out July 6,” Vaughn said. “You’ll see a tie-in with Pepsi around lemonade.”

When Frisch’s launches a new bacon cheeseburger and barbeque chicken sandwich on a brioche bun, it will also launch a lemonade option through Pepsi that aims to capitalize on consumer shifts away from carbonated drinks.

As WCPO has previously reported, some Frisch’s customers have been hoping that the company’s sale would cause the company to shift away from its exclusive deal with Pepsi – restoring Coke to company spigots.

The company has repeatedly said it will honor its exclusive deal with Pepsi. Vaughn said the contract won’t expire for six years. In the meantime, Pepsi is exploring new drink options like lemonade to endear itself to Frisch’s customers.

“We don’t have Coke,” Vaughn said. “We have Pepsi. So, what can we do with Pepsi to make it a great experience for our guests? The beverage platform will grow and Pepsi’s going to be a great part of it.”

But the biggest change involves the iconic Big Boy image. In charge of that new look is Anne Mejia, who was hired by NRD Capital as a consultant last year and became Frisch’s Restaurants’ new executive president of marketing June 6.

This is the biggest rebranding effort in which Mejia has been involved to date, although she has worked extensively with franchise operators and fast-food restaurant chains in the past. Mejia spoke to WCPO at the Covington restaurant Tuesday. Here are excerpts:

Q: Why is it important that Big Boy looks you in the eye?

Anne Mejia, executive vice president of marketing at Frisch's

A: He’s the person that’s going to welcome you to this restaurant. So, I don’t want him to have some glassy look like a doll that’s looking out that way. He’s our ambassador of fun. He’s our ambassador of the brand. So, he needs to have eye contact with you.

Q: What surprised you about the history of this image?

A: What really surprised me is that this Big Boy hasn’t changed since 1974. Frisch’s hasn’t changed (it). Before that, there were so many different iterations of his image.

Q: Why not put him in a nice suit, coat and tie?

A: Funny, I usually get asked if I think he needs a tattoo and a nose ring, but you know what? We have put him in the past in soccer uniforms and used him for different sporting events like that. You’ll see in our coloring sheets we’ve had him in like a drum major outfit. But those are more for kid-focused events.

Q: OK, well, let me ask you that. Does he need a tattoo or a nose ring?

A: We talk about that all the time. Brands evolve over time to meet the needs of their customers. We’re a family-dining restaurant. We appeal to ages from 2 to 102. So, we want to make sure that Big Boy as our ambassador continues to have the most mass appeal. So, I’m not sure he needs a tattoo yet. But we are constantly committed to evolving the brand. So, there may come a day.

Q: That was really a topic of discussion? You did consider it?

A: Right. It was a social media agency that came in and said, ‘Hey, I think you need to open this up and be open to having people help design a tattoo.' We didn’t want to move so far away from the Big Boy that’s been Frisch’s because it hasn’t gone through these wild shifts. We wanted to take a more moderate approach with this first step in brand evolution with a commitment that the brand will continue to evolve.

Salad bar at Covington Frisch's