U turn for UFood GrillAugust 18, 2015
It seemed like a sure recipe for success: a chain focusing on healthful fast food, just as the “fast casual” trend was taking off, led by one of the area’s franchising visionaries, a guy responsible for making Boston Chicken a national brand.
But George Naddaff never seemed to get much traction for UFood Grill, and the company, based in Newton at the time, slumped into bankruptcy in late 2012. All of UFood’s stand-alone stores eventually closed, leaving just 15 smaller locations spread among airports, schools, and Air Force bases across the country.
UFood’s potential hasn’t gone away. Certainly the appetite for healthful fast food may be stronger than ever.
That’s why Sal Rincione is determined to revive UFood’s fortunes. Since joining the company as chief executive in March, he’s been busy assembling his management team at the new headquarters in Burlington — the group consists of some old UFood execs and some new — along with revamping the menu and look of the stores.
The goal is to cook up a concept that can be easily sold to franchisees and in turn drive millennials through the doors. UFood is looking to open one corporate store, probably in Boston or Cambridge. But its expansion — Rincione wants to see 100 stores open in the next four years — will rely on the capital of other entrepreneurs.
“We have done so much in 90 days,” said Rincione, who said he helped open some 400 Red Mango locations as an executive with that yogurt shop chain. “We have a completely rolled out a new [UFood] prototype. We have a brand new equipment package. We’ve lessoned the development costs.”
UFood has more flexibility by staying privately held, for now, and not publicly traded like it was under Naddaff. Other improvements: a growth strategy that’s geographically focused on the East Coast and a streamlined food prep system to improve order turnaround times.
As far as the menu goes, Rincione replaced the bison burgers with grass-fed Angus beef, took pork off the menu, and made the salad bowls more customizable. At least the “UnFries” – they’re baked, not fried – haven’t changed.
“All of these billion-dollar companies are scrambling to change their menus to healthier options [but] we already have that,” Rincione said. — JON CHESTO