Rubio's mulls expansion of latest design prototype

Rubio's mulls expansion of latest design prototype

July 2003

Design Spotlight
excerpted from an article that appeared in Nation's Restaurant News, July 2003

With three restaurants and one food-court location sporting a new prototype design, Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill now is contemplating plans for a systemwide upgrade.

In the fall of 2002 sluggish same-stores sales prompted the company to shed its Rubio's Baja Grill name, expand its menu and serve larger portions strengthen the chain's standing as a major fast-casual player.

The efforts of what was once known as Rubio's Fish Tacos also are a bid to create a more mainstream image than the "Baja" name had allowed.

Then, as part of its significant rebranding strategy, Rubio's launched a new look to create a more upscale and compelling environment for its customers. According to the company, sales at the revamped restaurants are tracking above the 144-unit system's average. As a result, Rubio's founder and chief executive Ralph Rubio said the company is using the prototype design at every new store and is in the process of developing a plan to revamp existing locations.

"What we've done with the new look is so compelling, I've got to think at the end of the day that we'll get some key elements that will fit in existing stores," Rubio said.

Rubio's, which operates, franchises and licenses restaurants in California, Arizona, Oregon, Colorado, Utah and Nevada, reported same-store sales for its first quarter ended March 30 rose 1.6 percent, primarily due to a 6.1-percent increase in average check, offset by a 4.2-percent decrease in transactions. A salsa bar was installed as part of the design team's effort to make the fresh, upscale-casual Mexican cuisine the focus of the new prototype.

In an effort to encourage more dine-in customers, the chain implemented a warm color palette and comfortable seating in the eating area and pipes in Baja-themed music. A waterfall, a thatched cabana and murals all are intended to impart Rubio's 'fresh and fun' message.

To spearhead testing for a potential systemwide remodeling campaign, Rubio's hired San Francisco-based Tesser Inc., which was tapped to develop a package of elements that could be incorporated effectively into existing restaurants. Tesser's chief executive, Tre Musco, said the company also is highlighting aspects of the prototype that registered the greatest impact with customers. He added that Tesser also is ironing out any initial kinks in the first iteration of the "Baja Modern" design.

The original prototype design, which cost between $550,000 and $600,000 to develop, was spearheaded by Columbus, Ohio-based Chute Gerdeman. "Our mission was about Baja and about the style, lifestyle and attitude. Most important, the food and flavor of the food became our brand attributes," said Chute Gerdeman founder Denny Gerdeman.

While considering elements of the prototype to include in a remodel package test, Tesser also is focusing on reworking Rubio's menu boards to highlight the chain's signature items, such as its fish tacos and salads. In addition, Tesser is incorporating additional wall murals to ensure the chain's brand message is adequately expressed through its artwork, Musco said.

Rubio's has tested an initial package to enhance existing units with focus groups and will begin formal testing in the next few months, according to Musco.

View all of Tesser’s work for Rubios in our Portfolio Section here.