Stewart's All American President Jim LaGanke was in Orlando Tuesday scouting possible locations, including one on the W192 tourism corridor, for the New Jersey-based restaurant's big Florida expansion.
Known for its old-fashioned burgers and root beer floats, Stewart's has been a mainstay in the Northeast since 1924. The company has 35 open stores and is opening new locations in its core market and in Florida.
"We're pretty anxious to open five to seven stores in Florida over the next 18 months," LaGanke told GrowthSpotter.
He said the company wants to open at least two restaurants in the Orlando market. "Here you've got a lot of transplants from the northeast, so they recognize the brand," he said. "And younger consumers know us because they love our sodas."
LaGanke said he also has visited sites in Jacksonville and was headed to Tampa and Sarasota, before making a swing through South Florida. The plan is to include a mix of corporate and franchise-owned stores.
The Florida expansion will involve a multi-phase approach to introduce the brand to Florida consumers. That includes locating quick-serve restaurants in On The Move Corp. convenience stores, kiosk and food court locations in malls followed by stand-alone restaurants with carhop service.
"We're positioning ourselves as a new restaurant brand," LaGanke said. "We bought the company four years ago, so we really are a new company. We're taking the Chick-Fil-A model, going into regional malls to expose our brand."
Each restaurant will offer hard and soft ice cream, burgers and dogs, cheese steaks, wraps, pierogies and salads. LaGanke said Stewart's will differentiate itself from competitors, such as A&W, which already has a presence in the Orlando market.
"A&W went the quick-service route," LaGanke said. "Our whole position is we're upgrading the menu and making it more fast-casual. We don't cook anything until the order is placed. Our smallest burger is six ounces, so our check size is on the higher side."