BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
If market studies prove correct, menu favorites such as Monte Cristos and Turkey O'Tooles are sure to be crowd-pleasers in East Tennessee.
As the result of such research and the knowledge that "sit-down" restaurants in small towns become loyally-supported hangouts, Paul Mangiamele is determined to add to his company's nationwide restaurant fleet.
"We are coming to your area," said the president of Bennigan's, a restaurant offering "American Fare, Irish Hospitality."
Within the past three months, Bennigan's has announced the company's interest in connecting with the right franchisee and locating in Greeneville. And to help make it happen, the company has teamed with Brixmor Property Group, owner of the Greeneville Commons.
The Bennigan's partnership with Brixmor is one of three methods the company is taking in its latest expansion effort, Mangiamele said this week in a telephone interview with The Greeneville Sun.
He also said he believes the partnership to be one of the most innovative approaches a restaurant chain has ever taken to encourage franchisees.
The partnership with Brixmor, he explained, offers not only a location for the proposed restaurant (in this case, the Greeneville Commons), but also financing for the restaurant and what he described as a "generous tenant agreement."
The only missing ingredient? A qualified franchisee.
'I KNOW THE VOLUMES'
The Bennigan's restaurant previously located in Johnson City went out of business a number of years ago during a slump in the company's history.
That location was one among a number of Bennigan's restaurants to close after the parent company filed bankruptcy in 2008, according to reports by The Wall Street Journal.
That particular Bennigan's was also one among a number in the area that were actually quite popular before their closing, Mangiamele said.
"I know the volumes," he noted. "I went back to that history to see where Bennigan's did well. I want to reestablish those markets."
SPEAKS OF 'RENAISSANCE'
Describing his desire for expansion as a "crusade," Mangiamele also emphasized the company's "renaissance" -- a revival and refreshment of nearly every aspect of the restaurant company.
"We can't wait to introduce the new look, the new feel," he said.
"If we do open up in that area -- and we will -- we're going to show the 21st century of Bennigan's, not the old, tired Bennigan's that grew dated over the past 30 years."
This redesign, he explained, includes a reduced restaurant "footprint" of about 5,000 square-feet, in order to be more economical to operate and more user-friendly for customers.
The new Bennigan's, he continued, will be "happening -- and more relevant to this generation."
In addition, while the restaurant's revamp still has menu favorites, it will also feature additions such as Checkered Pie and other comfort foods, Mangiamele said.
The new menu items will be in addition to Bennigan's food classics that he said are sure to be popular in this area, including the sliced-ham-and-turkey "Monte Cristo" sandwich dusted with powdered sugar, and the "Turkey O'Toole" sandwich with honey Dijon dressing served on a pretzel bun.
"The best part of [the company's new approach] is the service," Mangiamele added.
"I think really good service today in any restaurant is an anomaly. I don't know what has happened to the art of great service."
The new Bennigan's is also community-oriented, he said, with a patio to welcome people from all around.
Of course, the prospect of a new Bennigan's franchise also brings with it the benefit of local economic development, and the impact of additional jobs.
Between servers, bartenders, a kitchen manager, "back-of-the-house personnel," builders and construction workers, Mangiamele estimated that "well over 100 people" would gain employment from the coming of a new Bennigan's.
'EVERYBODY WILL COME'
Qualified franchisees can visit Bennigans.com to discover more about the opportunities available, he said.
If such a franchisee is interested in locating a restaurant in Greeneville, "contact us immediately -- if not sooner!" the president said enthusiastically.
While some companies may ignore the small communities because of a town's population, Mangiamele said Bennigan's will not be one of them.
"Everybody will come," he explained. "Not just from three miles but from 30 miles.
"They come there not just for the food or the service, but they come there to meet their friends. It's entertainment -- it's a respite."