Chain restaurant growth slows nationally, NWA remains hot

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 170 views 

Northwest Arkansas, particularly Benton County, continues to be a hot attraction for chain restaurants looking to expand their reach. Some of the fastest growing chains in the country – Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, Longhorn Steakhouse and Twin Peaks – have new restaurants planned or recently opened in Rogers near the Pinnacle Promenade.

A new report from Technomic indicates the 500 largest U.S. restaurant chains saw average sales growth of 3.5% last year, a significant decline from the 4.9% recorded in 2012. The top 500 grew to an estimated $264 billion in 2013, up more than $8.8 billion versus 2012.

"Competition for share of stomach is getting more and more challenging," said Ron Paul, president of the foodservice consultancy. "But some brands that have found a way to differentiate themselves are gaining market share."

Among chains with annual sales over $200 million, the fastest-growing last year included Dickey’s Barbecue Pit which was up 32.9% to $331 million. In 2013, Dickey’s opened a second location in Rogers and has since planned a third regional restaurant in Fayetteville at 3316 W. Grove Road. 

As barbecue goes, an Oklahoma Sooner legend has plans for a new Billy Sims Barbecue restaurant in Bentonville, 3511 S.E. J. Street. Plans were submitted to the Arkansas Health Department earlier this month.

Among chains with annual sales under $200 million, the fastest-growing according to Technomic included Twin Peaks and CherryBerry. Twin Peaks, despite some opposition, is going ahead with plans to build a new restaurant at Pinnacle Hills Promenade across from Target. Plans were submitted to the health department on March 25. The Twin Peaks chain grew sales 68.4% to $165 million last year.

Yogurt bar CherryBerry has opened four locations in the two-county area in the past 18 months. The chain grew sales by 63.2% to $62 million last year, according to the Technomic report.

Limited-service restaurants saw an average sales gain of 3.9% last year. Within this category, Asian, bakery cafe and coffee cafe categories saw the greatest growth with Panda Express up 10.7%.

Last year Panda Express expanded its footprint in Northwest Arkansas with a second location at Pinnacle Hills and a third location on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Fayetteville. This California-based chain opened near the Wal-Mart Home Office more than two years ago.

Full-service restaurants saw 2.4% average sales growth, slightly down from 2012's 2.9% gain. The full-service steak category continued to show healthy gains of 6.2%, led by LongHorn Steakhouse up 12.8%. This chain opened its first restaurant in Northwest Arkansas March 17 at 2206 Promenade Blvd. in Rogers. 

In addition to national chain restaurants the region also is seeing some local venues apply for permits.

In Rogers, Brick Street Brews applied for a permit with the health department on March 6. The location for this pub-eatery is 208 W. Walnut in downtown Rogers.

In Fayetteville, Wood Stone Pizza applied for a permit on March 19 for an eatery at 5575 S. School Avenue. Mr. O’s Nutrition Smoothie Bar also plans to open at 3980 W. Wedington, Suite 11, in west Fayetteville, according to a permit filed March 18.