“Our new design, like Nathan’s Famous and New York itself, is a combination of old and new, greatness from the past combined with excitement for now and the future,” explains James Walker, senior vice president of restaurants
In 1916, Nathan Handwerker started his nickel hot dog stand on Coney Island, with a $300 loan and his wife’s secret recipe. At the time, he had no idea how famous those hot dogs would be. He had no idea that millions around the globe would tune in to see how many of those hot dogs could be consumed in 10 minutes, or that they would be available to consumers around the world in retail outlets and restaurants. Fast forward to 2020, 104 years later, and with the start of a new decade, Nathan’s Famous is embarking on a new path. One that pays homage to its New York roots, and famous food, but changes everything you know about the brand.
WELCOMING FRESH TALENT
In 2019, Nathan’s Famous’ restaurant division underwent many changes, intending to innovate the brand and take it into a new decade, poised to make more than just its hot dogs famous.
It started by hiring James Walker as senior vice president of restaurants and added to its corporate team with culinary consultants, marketing gurus, design experts, and operational veterans. What followed was a modernization across the board with a focus on menu, design, and technology innovation.
“I’ve been a fan of Nathan’s Famous since I was a child, and when the opportunity to get into this iconic brand presented itself, I jumped as quickly as possible,” said Walker. “There aren’t many chains in the restaurant space that can claim the storied history that Nathan’s can, which felt like a tremendous opportunity for me to continue that legacy, but also grow it for the next 100 years.”
As the brand rallied itself around innovation in 2019, three key categories seemed essential to starting a brand evol/p>enu, design, and technology.
IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT THE HOT DOG
While the hot dog might be the most famous menu item now, Nathan’s sets its aim on making the entire menu famous in 2020 and beyond. To make that a reality, Nathan’s tapped Mark Miller, James Beard Award winner, to help shape the menu revamp and give it its own unique identity.
“It was important for us to bring in a known expert; someone who has experience with helping QSRs ideate and manage an overhaul like this. We were honored to have Mark Miller lend his hand to this project,” said Walker.
Miller wasn’t the only famous industry veteran to lend a hand in the menu revitalization. Pat LaFrieda, the New York institution meat supplier, provided the brand with its NY Cheesesteak, which launched in the fall of 2019. The sandwich is made with half a pound of Pat Lafrieda’s premium quality black Angus ribeye, caramelized onions, LaFrieda’s Butcher Reserve Steak Sauce, American cheese, and sits on a Balthazar Baguette.
The sandwich launched to much fanfare, and Nathan’s has seen exponential sales growth of the NY Cheesesteak in comparison with its previous Philly Cheesesteak. Sales are up 121 per cent from past years. In addition to the NY Cheesesteak, Nathan’s also rolled out Meatball and Hot Pastrami heroes.
A COMPLETE REVITALIZATION
To add to the full menu mix, in early 2020, Nathan’s launched its burger and hand-dipped chicken programs. Each menu item celebrates a piece of New York, as the brand continues its mission of bringing the “Flavor of New York” to its restaurants around the globe.
Whether it’s the Manhattan, BBQ Bacon Tribeca, Hell’s Kitchen, or Nathan’s Signature burger, each is made with half a pound of fresh angus beef, and the burgers aren’t just appetizing to look at; they’re successful in sales. With the new changes, burger sales are up 67 per cent over last year.
The hand-dipped chicken program, which also pays homage to the city of New York, is the biggest change you’ll see on Nathan’s menu. The brand spent months creating this new menu segment with the understanding that it needed to stand out in the crowded QSR and fast-casual chicken space, but the new items also needed to be easy to make on an operational basis.
“There aren’t many chains in the restaurant space that can claim the storied history that Nathan’s can, which felt like a tremendous opportunity for me to continue that legacy, but also grow it for the next 100 years”
“The chicken program has been a tedious one, but it’s a new menu segment that we are incredibly proud to launch,” said Walker. “We wanted something for everyone, so guests will find everything from buffalo chicken tenders, a Southern fried chicken sandwich, a grilled chicken club, to the Harlem Hot Honey half chicken.”
To round out the menu evolution, the brand has upgraded its former shakes. The new line of milkshakes features premium ingredients like Ghirardelli chocolate and Oreo Cookies, alongside traditional flavors like vanilla, strawberry, and Nathan’s creamy orange.
NEW DESIGN FOR A NEW DECADE
In 2019, Nathan’s Famous announced a couple of partnerships aimed at reviving the brand and setting it on a course of modernization. With that came a slew of redesigned assets.
Included in that revamp were items like a new franchise sales website, new franchise sales collateral and presentation materials, but also included was a more significant undertaking: a new store design.
The new visual identity for Nathan’s began with menu board updates aimed at getting a feel for the guest, their experience, their openness to change, and their opinions on the new avenue. With overwhelmingly positive feedback, the brand set forth on a mission to create a new experience that, of course, paid homage to its roots and home, New York.
From a 3,200-square-foot inline or freestanding unit with a drive-thru to the Nathan’s Express fit for malls, airports, and more, the new store prototype is flexible and adaptable. It harkens to the architecture styles of New York City, with a blend of old and new materials that give the new Nathan’s a mix of historic charm and a modern, current experience.
Inside, the restaurant features a mixture of black steel beams and industrial-style windows, cement floors, and communal tables. The decor highlights vintage New York elements like mosaic and subway tiles and period black and white photos next to contemporary paintings of New York themes.
“Our new design, like Nathan’s Famous and New York itself, is a combination of old and new, greatness from the past combined with excitement for now and the future,” explained Walker.
Nathan’s began franchising the new prototype in early 2020, intending to open two to three units before the end of the year.
TECHNOLOGY GETS A BOOST
From day one, Walker knew it was clear that the Nathan’s brand needed a technology boost across the board: “The ways restaurants are utilizing technology today is unbelievable compared to where we were at the beginning of the last decade, and Nathan’s was a bit behind the curve when I came on board.”
In the last year, Walker worked to usher in new technologies aimed at aiding franchisees in everything from daily operations to online ordering and driving customer loyalty. New technology partnerships include PAR’s Brink POS, Toast, and Ordermark.
In the fall of 2019, Nathan’s Famous signed both PAR’s Brink POS and Toast on as preferred partners. Toast was responsible for ushering in the brand’s first self-ordering kiosks, which are currently testing at franchised locations across the country.
During this time, the brand also partnered with Ordermark to launch digital ordering and delivery through DoorDash, Postmates and Uber Eats, and for the first time since the brand’s inception, customers had the ability to order Nathan’s Famous and have their favorite hot dogs, burgers, heroes and fries delivered directly to their door. The pilot, which took place in three locations, resulted in an increase of more than $24,000 in total sales processed in one month.
“2019 was quite a year for us, we spent a great deal of time on research and development, and we’re excited to implement all that we learned toward the end of the year and as we entered into 2020,” said Walker. “These changes have poised Nathan’s Famous for tremendous growth and opportunity as we enter into this new decade.”
As a 100-plus-year-old brand, Nathan’s Famous has certainly stood the test of time, and the innovations that the brand has accomplished in the last year create anticipation for the next century.
FROM NEW YORK TO YOUR FRONT DOOR
Nathan’s Famous announced recently its partnership with Kitopi, the world’s leading managed cloud kitchen platform. Founded in Dubai in 2017, Kitopi began serving Brooklyn in November of 2019, and expanded to Manhattan in early 2020, following successful expansion through the Middle East and London. Now Nathan’s fans all over can enjoy The Flavor of New York delivered to their doorsteps.
AT A GLANCE
Number of franchised restaurants open worldwide: 250
Location of units: 13 countries
Investment range: Multiple investment ranges
Minimum required capital: Varies by market size