It’s been more than a generation since the Roy Rogers restaurant chain was at its peak.
But people still remember features like the “Fixin’s Bar,” where they could add what they wanted to their burgers, said Jim Plamondon. And even now the crowds often spill out the door when a new Roy’s opens.
To Plamondon, that is evidence of the continued brand loyalty to the restaurant chain bearing the name of the famed horse-riding Western star.
Plamondon, of Frederick, Md., today is leading a resurgence of Roy Rogers, which had more than 600 locations before it was sold to another restaurant chain, Hardee’s, and began to dwindle in the 1990s. He co-owns the chain with his brother, Pete Plamondon Jr.
In the late 1980s, Roy’s operated numerous restaurants in Central Pennsylvania, including 11 in the five-county midstate region and many more nearby, a spokesman for the chain said.
Today, said Plamondon, Roy’s has 54 locations in six states, five of them in this state, all at rest stops along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
In August Plamondon will add a sixth Keystone State location in Matamoras, Pike County, and is actively looking at Central Pennsylvania for more new restaurants, he said. Two of the current turnpike locations, in Newburg and Plainfield, are in Cumberland County.
While he has no franchise agreements signed, he has parties interested in operating restaurants in Harrisburg, Lancaster, York and other cities nearby, Plamondon told the Business Journal in a recent interview.
In 2016, Roy’s opened six restaurants, five of them franchised and one corporate, and Plamondon wants to continue on a steady growth pace.
It’s no accident that the mid-Atlantic region is home for the chain, which has locations in its home state of Maryland, plus Virginia, West Virginia, New York and New Jersey along with Pennsylvania.
“That’s where the brand was very strong, and it still has this great brand equity to it. Here’s a chain that once was 648 restaurants, and that didn’t happen by accident,” he said.
Plamondon said Roy Rogers aims to be a cut above typical burger-and-fries places.
“We get a lot of customers who say, ‘I don’t eat at fast food, but I eat at Roy Rogers.’ To me, that’s very interesting,” Plamondon said.
Plamondon is a practicing attorney and former federal prosecutor. He and his brother, who used to be in commercial real estate, bought the Roy’s trademark and franchise system in 2002.
Their father, Pete Plamondon Sr., had helped oversee the Roy Rogers brand for the Marriott Corp., which opened the chain’s first restaurant in 1968.
“Our dad believed so strongly in the original Roy Rogers brand that he left Marriott to become a Roy Rogers franchisee, and eventually purchased the chain himself,” noted the website for Plamondon’s firm, the Plamondon Cos.
As he guides the Roy’s name back to prominence, Jim Plamondon admits there are challenges.
The biggest is “finding the people to operate our restaurants. It’s a very tough labor market, not just at the management level, but also at the hourly-associate level. We typically employ younger people, often in high school or college and in their first job, and that labor pool has become hard.”
At the same time, a number of upper- and mid-level managers for Roy’s started as entry-level employees, and every one of Plamondon’s district managers started as an hourly worker, he noted.
“We have a lot of longevity in our company. I like to think we treat our associates well, and they stay with us for a long period of time,” he said.