Your Favorite Local Restaurant May Actually Be A Secret Chain

There's nothing better than a great local restaurant, the kind of place where the menu is familiar but interesting, the staff is warm and knowledgeable, and the environment is comfortable and inviting. That's a tall order for management to pull off and often requires a large support team. How can a small local place afford to bring what we expect and still break even? The secret might just be that it's not so small after all. Some smart restaurant groups have cracked the code for providing diners the comfort of a local hang-out by designing concepts that serve regional favorites mingled with a corporate standard in so-called secret chains.

You might wonder why a restaurant would choose to stay in stealth mode concerning its corporate affiliation. Huge restaurant groups often do the same, for example, Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Outback Steakhouse are both owned by Bloomin Brands. But these individual entities have a unique look and feel that is the same no matter what city they open in. However, diners have expressed a preference for eating at local establishments. So what's a restaurant group to do when faced with the bottom line need to stay centralized and also attract new customers? Yep, you guessed it. Expand in a smart way that encompasses local identity.

Local places with far-away roots

One group finding success expanding in this stealthy way is the parent of Eureka! Restaurants. Eureka! makes an effort to reflect the local community in each of its nearly 30 locations according to its website. Likewise, La Popular, owned by the same holding company (Grupo Carolo) wants to offer more than authentic Mexico City cuisine; they hope to be a part of each community they open in by showcasing local art and musicians. These brands mention their multiple locations on their websites, but not their affiliation with the larger management company, allowing them to maintain a smaller identity and a loyal local customer base.

Although some restaurant groups use their established reputation to guide new customers to their various brands (For example, Union Square Hospitality Group's Smash Burger or the many restaurants managed by José Andrés' Think Food Group), others prefer to stay under the radar to be more attractive to diners looking for local options. If your new favorite restaurant is Snooze, Paul Martin's American Grill, Blue Sushi Sake Grill, Elmer's or Tupelo Honey Cafe (among many others), you are the lucky beneficiary of a secret chain that wants to be your local go-to and is working hard to win your loyalty.