Boston Chicken was one of the hottest fast-food restaurant concepts of the late 80’s and 90’s. The chain experienced rapid growth. They offered a differentiated fast casual dining experience. Like many great ideas, the chain grew too fast and lost its sense of purpose and what made them successful in the race for quick profits. Under new leadership, can Boston Market become relevant again?
Boston Chicken was founded in 1985 in Newton, Massachusetts by Steve Kolow and Arthur Cores. Not long after it opened, Boston Chicken was a smash hit. Consumers began flocking to the take-out chicken store and telling their friends about their discovery. Word of mouth helped fuel strong growth. Positive press from the Boston Globe also spread the word. For $5 to $7, a person could buy a relatively healthy, freshly cooked, home-style meal. The same plates would cost $10 to $15 in a sit-down restaurant and would take time to prepare.
During 1993, the chain tripled in size to 217 stores. Boston Chicken went public in November 1993. Enthusiastic investors bought heavily as Boston Chicken’s stock price soared. It had a larger first day price increase than Google. The aggressive expansion plan would prove to be the cause of the company’s financial demise. The name was changed to Boston Market in 1995 to reflect its growing menu. I don’t think this was the best decision. By 1997, Boston Market, had over 1,100 restaurants in operation and over $1 Billion in sales.
Poor employee training, high operating expenses, changing consumer tastes and a mediocre customer experience contributed to a declining sales trend. In 1998, Boston market declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy and closed over 400 stores as part of its re-structuring plan. In 2000, McDonald’s purchased the chain and began re-tooling operations. In the seven years that McDonald’s owned the chain it largely fell under the radar. In 2007, McDonald’s sold Boston Market to turn-around expert Sun Capital. Sun Capital specializes in fixing cultures of companies that are losing money.
Sun Capital has been working to revitalize the Boston Market Brand. One of the first steps was to go back to the original Boston Chicken format, neighborhood locations with a smaller footprint. The next step has been to engage employees in support of a common purpose of “Helping Families Eat Better.” Boston Market has also undergone a menu revamp dubbed “America’s Kitchen Table” as well as a shift to real plates and silverware and other enhancements to the guest experience. These improvements have led to 21 consecutive months of same store sales increases. They have fixed the core and have recently begun to introduce new products like ribs and have plans to open a limited number of new stores. After falling off the radar for years, Boston Market is attempting to make a comeback. It remains to be seen if they will be successful.
Have you eaten at a Boston Market recently?