Turn Up the Heat! El Pollo Loco accelerates its transformation
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Turn Up the Heat! El Pollo Loco accelerates its transformation

Turn Up the Heat! El Pollo Loco accelerates its transformation

Three years ago, El Pollo Loco began a multi-pronged Transformation Agenda that included several pillars: investing in a people-first culture, differentiating the brand, reinforcing bonds with the communities we serve, and simplifying operations to make it easier to be an employee and a franchisee. 

Now, the deliverables in our transformation have been fulfilled and we’re ushering in a new era of growth. That’s why we’ve initiated our Acceleration Agenda with a focus on successfully scaling the brand and setting ourselves up for geographical expansion in the years ahead in markets where we don’t currently have a presence. This is the catalyst to eventually get the brand back to 5% annual new unit growth across the U.S. by 2023.

Digital growth 

Inherent in that Transformation Agenda also was a real commitment to digitize our business and create a seamless experience for our customers, whether shopping with us in our physical restaurants or ordering and accessing us digitally. We launched our redesigned Loco Rewards program last year and our customers noticed. The new and improved version debuted an enhanced, personalized mobile app experience that made it easier than ever for loyal customers to earn and collect benefits. In 2020 alone, we tripled the growth of our e-commerce business, which no doubt reflects our commitment to meet our customers where they are, no matter how they choose to interact with us. This year, our Loco Rewards program earned a top 10 spot in Newsweek’s 2021 ranking of America’s Best Loyalty Programs.

New designs to fuel expansion

Our planned growth will come mostly through franchising. Initial expansion efforts will focus on penetrating DMAs in the West and Southwest. Starting in 2024, we will move to the Midwest before continuing our way eastward. 

We began recruiting new franchisees in January, just a month after unveiling our new “restaurant of the future,” designed to enhance off-premise convenience.

These reimagined restaurants are inspired by the changing habits of consumers to enjoy a more digital-forward and contactless experience, a move accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The new L.A. Mex design, as it’s called, also features a modern interpretation of our brand’s heritage and strengths, including distinct iconography harkening back to the indelible influence Los Angeles has had on our menu and style. The new restaurants come to life with a unique design and innovative features for the most seamless customer experience possible.

  • All-new exterior branding. The new image features a complete redesign of the building exterior, featuring the “Fire Tower” that evokes the feel of the flames that create the brand’s famous fire-grilled chicken. More comfortable and branded patios give our customers the opportunity to dine outside in the fresh air. Brighter colors, enhanced lighting, and a softer treatment to the logo round out the exterior package.
  • Embracing off-premise dining. Along with our traditional drive-thru, the new design supports many modes of off-premise dining. We have added GPS-enabled curbside pickup and have amplified delivery and in-restaurant order pickup with a new dedicated Pollo To Go digital order pickup fixture. All off-premise dining modes are driven through a connection with the El Pollo Loco app. 
  • Comfortable and branded interior. When customers walk inside the remodeled restaurant, they’ll experience an open and comfortable interior design rooted in the history of the brand, yet embracing a modern look and feel. New features, like full digital menu boards and grab-and-go drinks add to a more upscale customer experience.
  • Fun touches. The design also contains unique and fun touches based on the brand’s long history and positioning serving fresh L.A. Mex cuisine. Pendant lights in the dining room are made from the forks the EPL Grill Masters use to cook the chicken over open fire. Entry door handles are shaped to resemble the cleaver that cuts the freshly cooked chicken. Logo art features inlaid murals, and the wallpaper shows maps of Los Angeles.

New look, same fire-grilled menu 

While our look may be different, our differentiated menu will remain the same. At El Pollo Loco, the chicken is always fresh, never frozen, marinated in a proprietary recipe of citrus, garlic and spice, fire-grilled over an open flame, and hand-cut to order. The freshly grilled chicken serves as the base for a selection of dishes, including family chicken meals, tacos, burritos, quesadillas, bowls, and salads. The Pollo Fit section of the menu also offers low-calorie, vegan and even Keto-certified options.

The future

We have already remodeled our first four restaurants (three in Los Angeles and one in Las Vegas) and plan to complete 55 remodels in 2021. Our longer-term goal is to finish more than 300 remodels in the next 4 to 5 years. In addition, we expect to build 6 new stores with the L.A. Mex design this year and open as many as 140 new locations over the next 5 years.

Brian Carmichall is chief development officer at El Pollo Loco, which has more than 480 restaurants in Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas, Utah, and Louisiana.

Published: November 8th, 2021

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Franchise Update Magazine: Issue 4, 2021
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