Today's big winner is ... Arooga's Grille House & Sports Bar.
The Susquehanna Township-based casual restaurant chain, known for its wings and wall-to-wall sports programming, has inked its first franchise agreement — a deal that will nearly triple its business.
Arooga’s is partnering with the Mohegan Tribe in Connecticut, owners of the Mohegan gambling empire, on 15 standalone restaurants in New England over the next five years, with an option for additional units within casinos and other Mohegan properties.
The first eight of those will be built in Connecticut, said Gary Huether Jr., co-founder and president of Arooga’s Management LLC, the general partner of Arooga’s Grille House & Sports Bar Holdings LP.
The deal also calls for restaurants in Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont, he said.
“It’s so exciting. I feel like we’re living a dream here,” Huether said of the chain, which opened its first location in 2008.
A 9,000-square-foot restaurant that can seat up to 300 people expects to break ground this summer in the parking lot of Mohegan Sun’s 185-acre casino in Uncasville, Conn. It is the world’s second-largest casino resort.
“We are thrilled to partner with Mohegan to expand into the New England market, which presents a tremendous opportunity for growth,” said co-founder Mike Murphy. “We also feel that this is the perfect partnership to connect with a market that has such passion and pride for their history in sports legacies.”
The first Arooga’s franchise location is slated to open by Christmas, Huether said.
Meanwhile, Arooga’s is about to open its ninth corporate store in Shippensburg. All are in Central Pennsylvania and each has been a redevelopment project.
The Connecticut casino site is the first new build for Arooga’s. It will blend the best parts of each local restaurant, Huether said, with 40 beers on draft and more than 100 televisions. There will be a Jumbotron-like TV system above the 47-foot bar and an outdoor deck with fire pits for dining and social gathering.
“We are thrilled to bring this incredible sports bar concept to the New England area,” said Kevin Brown, chairman of the Mohegan Tribe. “Arooga’s reputation for being the next great restaurant franchise is well-earned and we are privileged and pleased to have them as an important part of our organization.”
The chain won a national franchise contest in 2009. It hired a full-time franchise sales manager last year.
The Dauphin County chain continues to scout possible restaurant locations in Lancaster County, as well as the Lehigh Valley, State College and into Maryland, hoping to add three or four new corporate locations per year. Another York County site is also possible, Huether said: “We want to grow out our circle here.”
The goal is 50 units in five years between company-owned and franchised units, he said.
“It’s amazing. It’s been a great ride,” he said. “I think this deal is only going to open up more doors for us. It gives validity to what we’re doing.”
Arooga’s had been negotiating the franchise deal with Mohegan for about six months, he added: “The hardest one to sell is your first.”
Even without the franchise deal, which could mean exponential growth beyond the Mohegan restaurants, Arooga’s is “bursting at the seams” on an administrative level, Huether said. The owners have been on the hunt for real estate for the last year, hoping to buy at least 20,000 square feet for a new headquarters and warehouse space.
The company has been searching in Cumberland and Dauphin counties, Huether said.
“We’re definitely planning to grow the office,” he added, with 15 current office employees.