When Wienerschnitzel appeared on the scene in the 1960s, its drive-thrus were unique in that customers actually drove through their buildings. They had a gap in the middle with for the car lane with the kitchen on the driver’s side.
Decades later, 92 of those drive-thrus still exist, and the Newport Beach-based chain is looking for ways to bring them into the 21st century.
“Instead of saying ‘Wipe ‘em out and rebuild,’ we realized we have great real estate points and it’s very nostalgic. So we’re making some efforts behind the scenes that haven’t been shown anywhere,” said Rusty Bills, chief operating officer, in a joint phone interview with J.R. Galardi, president and chief executive officer.
“We’re maintaining the nostalgic history of our brand, but modernizing as well,” said Galardi, who is the son of founder John Galardi.
Bills was recently promoted from vice president of operations. One of his roles in the new position is to modernize kitchens to make the most of new technology and deal with post-COVID-19 challenges such as staffing shortages and supply chain issues.
“We want to make sure that we have the most efficient, assemble-to-order kitchen that we can for our franchisees,” he said.
“We have some really tiny kitchens, but we get to be creative.”
The original drive-thrus have small kitchens, and many have short drive-thrus. Their most noticeable characteristics are their A-frame design and steep roofs.
Wienerschnitzel would like to update seven drive-thrus, four in the Bay Area and three in Southern California, including what Bills called a bottom-up remodeling in Oceanside. The chain is also looking at redoing a restaurant in Long Beach.
Plans are long-term and evolving. Bills said the company is working through artistic renderings before bidding goes out. He won’t know which locations will be upgraded until the first quarter of 2023 at the earliest.
Changes being considered include redoing the roofs and exterior space around the restaurants.
Hot Dog on a Stick undertook a similar project to preserve its first stand at Muscle Beach near the Santa Monica Pier. The 440-square-foot structure largely remained the way it was when it opened in 1946, but the chain wanted to build a slightly larger replica made of modern materials. It took several years to get the project off the ground, but the chain says the work has been completed.
Galardi said remodeling creates an opportunity to draw customers into Wienerschnitzel with updated curb appeal.
“You want to tap into nostalgia, but you also want to keep the brand moving forward.”
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