Bear Rock Heats Up Dinner Offerings

Bear Rock Cafe, a Cary, N.C.-based fast-casual sandwich chain, announced yesterday that Strategic Restaurant Acquisitions Corp. has invested in the company, and the money will be used to build its dinner business.

SRAC, based in San Ramon, Calif., is the country's second-largest Burger King franchisee, with 233 units. SRAC's president, Jerry Comstock, is a well-known retail and restaurant executive whose resume includes a stint as president and COO of Bennigan's, the casual-dining chain, from 1998 to 2002.

The cash infusion will enable Bear Rock Café to focus on building its dinner business, said Deneen Nethercutt, vice president of marketing for 27-unit Bear Rock. Dinner currently accounts for 25 percent to 31 percent of sales, and the company would like that figure to hover around 40 percent, Nethercutt said.

Bear Rock made its first dinner-building move in August, when it introduced Pizzetas, personal-size pizzas made with flatbread. The pizzetas ($7.49 to $7.89), account for about 6% of total sales.

The next step: A new Hot Off the Grill line of five sandwiches that premieres Monday, Dec. 4. The sandwiches--blackened mahi mahi with Cajun seasoning, grilled mahi mahi, a Black Angus melt, a Black Angus burger and a crab cake--represent "a new realm for us," Nethercutt said. The crab cake offering will be priced at $7.99, with the other four at $6.89--prices in line with Bear Rock's current offerings, Nethercutt said.

Finally, in January, Bear Rock will open a new corporate store near its headquarters in Cary, N.C. During the first and second quarters of 2007, the chain will experiment with dinner-related tactics. Among them: Delivering meals to tables once customers have placed their order at the counter, offering starters and more hot entrees, and serving wines by the glass and beer.

Nethercutt did not have details on the menu offerings or on any dinner-centered marketing strategies. "We'll have to test some different approaches," she said.

When asked if she thought that an investment from a Burger King franchisee was an interesting fit, Nethercutt referred to Comstock's restaurant experience. "It's a great culture fit," she said. "They're strong operators and they have great experience in the restaurant business."