Applebee's making its area debut Restaurant franchise opens tomorrow in Catonsville

Chain known in 45 states

Towson, Westminster next on list for Maryland locations

August 12, 1996|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

A restaurant franchise breaking into the Baltimore market tomorrow expects the Applebee's name soon to be as familiar to diners as Red Lobster, Bennigan's or T.G.I. Friday's.

While the chain -- with 752 restaurants in 45 states -- has surpassed its casual dining competitors in number of locations nationally, the chain that sells itself as "America's favorite

neighbor" and honors hometown heroes is a virtual unknown in the Baltimore region.

"Once we get customers to try Applebee's, we feel very confident we can beat the competition in the marketplace," said Harry Rose, president of Rose Casual Dining Inc., the Baltimore-area franchisee planning to expand to 11 restaurants within two years.

The Newtown, Pa.,-based company, which opened an Applebee's at Annapolis Mall in 1995 and one in Salisbury last October, will open its first in the Baltimore market tomorrow -- a 5,400-square-foot, freestanding restaurant employing 130 and seating 175 on Baltimore National Pike in Catonsville.

With exclusive rights to build Applebee's in the Baltimore region and on the Eastern Shore, Rose Casual Dining has targeted areas with strong residential or retail growth.

Construction will start within the next two weeks on an Applebee's in Towson on Joppa Road, then within three months at a yet-undisclosed location in Westminster.

Rose is negotiating sites in Bel Air, Columbia, Timonium and Easton, all to open by early 1998. Another two are yet to be determined.

Rose, who has operated Boston Markets and owns six Roy Rogerses out of state, got into his first full-service venture with Applebee's.

"It's a growing segment," Rose said. "People are eating out more. They're looking for more choices and more variety. The trend for the last five to six years has been more influenced by being able to go in and have a meal served by wait staff as opposed to quick service."

Analyst David L. Gardner of Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc. said that, while he believes that fast food remains a popular choice, there is still room for new players in the casual dining sector.

"Baltimore is one of the more attractive restaurant areas," Gardner said. "Restaurants do fairly well in terms of traffic and volume."

In casual dining, those restaurants that have done best have offered what consumers perceive as a good value, a combination of moderate price and quality food, he said.

At Applebee's, no menu item costs more than $10. Sixty percent of menu offerings are standard across the country. Individual franchisees fill out the menu, selecting from a list of 250 items and changing them often.

"Generally, it's been a pretty successful restaurant concept," Gardner said. "They have a pretty broad customer base and kind of moderate price point."

Applebee's was founded in Atlanta, Ga., by Bill and T. J. Palmer, who opened T. J. Applebee's Edibles & Elixirs in November 1980. After opening a second restaurant in Atlanta, the Palmers sold the concept to W. R. Grace and Co. in 1983.

Bill Palmer was made president of the Applebee's Division and guided the operation to a full-fledged franchise system.

Applebee's International Inc. became the chain's franchiser in 1988, when a Kansas City franchisee purchased the rights to the Applebee's concept from W. R. Grace and changed the restaurants' name to Applebee's Neighborhood Grill and Bar.

Its shares are traded on the Nasdaq Stock Market, where they closed Friday at $28.125.

Pub Date: 8/12/96

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