Checkers opens restaurants in area

A car drives out of the Checkers Drive-Thru at the Riverton Commons in Front Royal. The business recently reopened.  Rich Cooley/Daily

A car drives out of the Checkers Drive-Thru at the Riverton Commons in Front Royal. The business recently reopened. Rich Cooley/Daily

Checkers has reentered the fast food restaurant game in Front Royal and Winchester.

A new drive-in, dine-in Checkers opened in Winchester on Nov. 1 and in Front Royal, a previous Checker’s restaurant closed four years ago reopened its drive-in service this month.

Both are franchisee owned.

Over the past four years ago, Checkers/Rally has shown year over year sales growth in the same stores, according to John Palumbo, East Coast regional director for franchise development for Checkers.

The Front Royal restaurant at 135 Riverton Commons Drive had previously been closed for four years, as had a Winchester Checkers on Patsy Cline Boulevard that remains empty.

“We are a 30-year-old brand and you have growing pains as you go along,” said Palumbo, noting the company’s business model has changed, with one focus being to “grab a spot in the late night business by staying open until 11 p.m. or 3 a.m. in some markets.”

Checkers & Rally (they are exactly the same except for the name) owns and operates more than 320 restaurants and another 500 are franchisees, said Palumbo, who joined the company in 2011 after 15 years in quick food service franchising with other companies.

He arrived just in time for the February 2012 appearance of Checkers’ CEO Enrique “Rick” Silva on TV’s Undercover Boss.

“It was great for us,” said Palumbo and the Nation’s Restaurant News said the appearance was the equivalent of about $20 million in national advertising. Checkers only advertises locally.

“Certainly from a lead perspective it generated a lot of interest from lenders and real estate developers as well as potential franchisees,” said Palumbo. “It was a lot of exposure and it really helped our business model.

Silva’s clandestine TV appearance as an employee also changed the company’s culture.

“From that show new policies and procedures have been implemented,” said Palumbo. “Staff bonuses based on sales and customer feedback are byproducts. We have new systems today that weren’t in place four years ago and reopening is a big part of our business model now.”

Palumbo said today the company maintains strong distribution contracts that didn’t exist before, new operational controls, more point of sale (POS) systems, the late night marketing campaign and a more diverse menu, he added.

Malik Mehboob, 42, of Hagerstown, Maryland, is the franchise owner of Winchester’s new Checker’s sandwiched between Auto Zone and Apple Blossom Market at 826 Berryville Ave.

Mehboob, who also owns a Checker’s franchise in Hagerstown, said the prior location on Patsy Cline Boulevard was “bad” and the new location, – once a Long John Silver restaurant – would succeed because it offers inside seating for more than 70 people.

“In winter especially, people want to eat something inside and that is why our stores are doing well,” said Mehboob.

Open only five weeks, the Winchester store “is exceeding our expectations,” he said.

Paula Loy, of Winchester, eating at the restaurant for the first time recently, praised her BLT sandwich, noting it only cost $1.29.

“It’s good. I can’t make one for myself for that price,” said Loy.

Checkers, based in Tampa, Florida, boasts online it offers “exceptional value” and “Crazy Good Food.”

Concerning the Front Royal restaurant, Palumbo said the company is “excited to be back in that space,” adding he believes success there will attract interest from franchisees who want to open a new restaurant and “be part of the brand.”

Talks are underway with eight different groups considering developing a Checkers restaurant, Palumbo said, and he expects to open 40-50 new franchises in 2016.

“When we open a store, we don’t do it blindly and we don’t want to cannibalize sales,” said Palumbo. “We believe in responsible growth. To grow haphazardly without any direction can be a danger to the entire franchise system.”

As a quick service restaurant, Checkers competes against the big three – McDonalds, Wendy’s and Burger King, where Checkers CEO Silva once worked.

“Actually anyone who has quick service that you can think of is our competition,” said Palumbo. “Checkers’ burger service provides value and flavor at a great price and it’s hard to find a direct parallel.”

Checkers is owned by Sentinel Partners, a private equity firm that operates in eight market sectors, including food/restaurants, and targets niche leaders. Their portfolio also includes Taco Bell, Church’s Chicken, Fazoli’s, Huddle House, Pizza Hut, TGI Friday’s and Tony Roma’s.

“They have been great to work with,” said Palumbo about his limited exposure interacting with them.

Tom Crosby is a freelance writer and former communications director for AAA Carolinas. Contact him at news@nvdaily.com

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