Fazoli’s CEO comes back to Dayton to announce menu overhaul

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Fazoli's CEO comes back to Dayton to announce menu overhaul

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

The CEO of the Fazoli’s Italian restaurant chain, which operates seven restaurants in the Dayton-Springfield area, returned to his hometown today to announce sweeping menu changes that have removed all artificial ingredients from every dish served.

“We eliminated more than 80 artificial ingredients from 61 different menu items,” Carl Howard, a native of Kettering and a 1983 graduate of what was then Fairmont East High School, said this afternoon at the Fazoli’s across from the Dayton Mall in Miami Twp. “Every step along the way, we’ve improved the food.”

RELATED: Restaurant exec from Kettering wins national award (May 2014)

The overhauled menu is now in place in all Fazoli’s in the Dayton area and in the Lexington, Ky. area, where the chain is headquartered. It will be in place by the end of June in all Fazoli’s company-owned restaurants, and all artificial sweeteners, flavors, preservatives and colors will be removed from the entire food menu by the end of June in all Fazoli’s restaurants nationwide. Founded in 1988, the chain operates 213 units across 25 states.

Fazoli’s will become the second restaurant chain of 200 units or more (Panera Bread completed the process earlier this year) to ban artificial preservatives, colors, sweeteners and flavors from its menu items. The changes have already cost the chain about $1.5 million, but Howard said the money was well spent.

“We’re putting that into the brand because we think customers will appreciate it,” he said.

The chain has been on the rebound under Howard's leadership. Fazoli's has generated 15 straight quarters of same-store sales growth, and is well on its way to 16: same-store sales increased 4.9 percent in January, according to the trade publication Nation's Restaurant News.

The brand “refresh” also includes new plateware, a new catering menu, and new dishes such as Brownie Gelato Sundae, a chocolate brownie topped with salted caramel gelato and candied walnuts for $3.49.

RELATED: Fazoli's chooses Dayton to launch new restaurant concept (March 2010)

Over the years, Fazoli’s has used the Dayton-Springfield region frequently to test-market new menu and service concepts, including the new menu, which preserves the chain’s modest price points. “We’re half the price of Olive Garden — and you don’t have to tip here,” Howard said of the chain, where customers order at a counter and are delivered their food in the dining room.

Howard is a bit of an anomaly in the high-turnover restaurant industry. He has led Fazoli’s for nine years, and even survived a corporate change of ownership: in July 2015, Fazoli’s was sold by Sun Capital Partners to Sentinel Capital Partners, which also owns TGI Fridays and which just last week sold its Checkers/Rally’s Drive-In Restaurants.

RELATED: Fazoli's Italian restaurant chain sold(July 2015)

Usually, such takeovers are accompanied by a clean sweep of the corporate offices. But Howard has persisted.

“I’m not ready to quit. I love Fazoli’s, and I know the brand,” Howard said. “We’re on the cusp of great things.”

RELATED: Fazoli’s to unveil 20 new menu items in Dayton(February 2015)

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