- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Roy Rogers is back in the saddle. After years of neglect, the restaurant chain, known for its roast beef sandwiches and Fixin’s Bar, is riding in a new direction with plans to refresh and regrow the brand that once blanketed the Washington area.

Leading the charge are brothers Jim and Pete Plamondon Jr., the sons of Peter Plamondon Sr. who helped Marriott International open the first Roy Rogers restaurant in Bailey’s Crossroads in 1968.

The brothers recently bought the restaurant’s trademark and franchise system and have developed an aggressive program to more than double the 63-store chain within the next five years. With a modern, refreshed look, the restaurant’s core menu items will remain the same: prepared-to-order hamburgers, slow-roasted, carved-to-order roast beef and fried chicken.

“It’s all about the quality of foods,” said Pete Plamondon Jr., 44. “We want to maintain a level of consistency [in all the restaurants].”

Sitting in a holiday-decorated room at one of their newest restaurants in Frederick, Md., the brothers cracked jokes about themselves and their relationship. But their tones turned serious when they discussed the brand their father helped build.

“We wanted to control our own destiny,” said Jim Plamondon, 40. “We saw a lot of equity in the brand and the opportunity to refranchise it.”

“To reignite it,” Pete Jr. chimed in.

About a dozen other franchisees own and operate the existing Roy Rogers locations in nine states. The Plamondons, who operate 14 locations of their own, are trying to get new agreements from the existing franchisees as well as find new operators.

HMS Host, Roy Rogers’ largest franchisee, signed an agreement in January to continue operating 22 Roy Rogers in airports and travel plazas in Maryland, Delaware, New York and New Jersey.

The Plamondons plan to grow slowly with 140 locations in the next five years. About 15 percent to 20 percent will be corporate-owned.

“Our vision is to be a regional chain, not a national chain,” Pete Jr. said.

But the brothers agree that vision could grow.

“We like to underpromise and overdeliver,” Jim said.

The Plamondon brothers will have their work cut out for them, facing the challenge of rebuilding a brand that has fallen by the wayside.

“They are dealing with an image,” said Dan Rowe, president and chief executive of Fransmart, a franchise-development firm in Alexandria. “At one time it was a good brand and then it became an out-of-fashion brand.

“That’s not an easy trend to reverse,” he said.

However, the Plamondons have an exceptional reputation in the restaurant business, especially after keeping their units afloat and well-managed during Roy Rogers’ toughest times, Mr. Rowe added.

“They are considered as good as it gets,” Mr. Rowe said.

In its heyday, the Roy Rogers chain, named after the TV and movie cowboy legend, had more than 640 locations. Peter Plamondon Sr. left Marriott to focus on Roy Rogers and opened about 16 of his own locations.

In 1990, Marriott sold the Roy Rogers chain to Hardee’s for $365 million, and the restaurant chain began a downward spiral. As the new franchiser, Hardee’s converted many of the Roy Rogers locations into Hardee’s restaurants. The existing franchisees continued to operate their Roy Rogers restaurants even as the chain continued to deteriorate.

Hardee’s eventually disposed of almost all of the Roy Rogers locations — selling them to competitors like McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s, who then converted them into their own brands.

The Plamondons held on to their stake in the Roy Rogers brand and began to make their own effort to revitalize it.

“We did a lot of soul searching,” Jim said. “There was a lot of equity in this brand, but we needed to reinvent ourselves.”

The Plamondons started a training program, enhanced the marketing of the restaurants and worked on product development — eventually inviting the remaining franchisees to join.

The brothers bought the franchisee business from their father five years ago and began the long process of trying to buy the Roy Rogers trademark from Hardee’s former parent company, Imasco.

The eldest Plamondon is now the chairman of Plamondon Enterprises, the Frederick parent company of 14 Roy Rogers in Western Maryland and Northern Virginia and three Marriott hotels in Frederick County. It also is the parent company of Roy Rogers Franchise Co., the chain’s franchiser. Peter Sr. remains active as a consultant for the company.

Before buying the trademark, the brothers tried improving their 12 existing stores and opened prototype locations including one in Frederick in May 2000 and another in Germantown in December 2001, which now generates close to $2 million in annual revenue. A 15th location is expected to open in Gaithersburg in February.

With each opening, the brothers were convinced they were making the right decision as longtime customers thanked them for finally opening a nearby location.

Despite a loyal following in some parts of this region, Mr. Rowe suggested that the brothers focus on areas that are not familiar with Roy Rogers.

“There are still markets that never heard of Roys,” he said. “It would be much easier to go there than where they’ve been.”

Don DeBolt, president of the International Franchise Association, said the Roy Rogers brand will face much more competition than it did when the chain started. But he added that consumers are willing to try new things.

“Everybody has to eat three times a day, and they get bored,” Mr. DeBolt said. “People will give it a try. If it’s positive, they will return.”

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