The ‘Moose’ returns to hawk Black-eyed Pea’s chicken-fried steak

The ‘Moose’ returns to hawk Black-eyed Pea’s chicken-fried steak

Gregg Cebrynzski

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. — Casual-dining operator Black-eyed Pea said it again would use the “Moose” to promote its chicken-fried steak during promotions scheduled for late summer or early fall.

That’s Daryl “Moose” Johnston, an all-pro running back with the Dallas Cowboys, who appeared in a TV campaign last winter and who the chain said played a key role in boosting same-store sales and improving cash flow for parent company DenAmerica Corp.

In a related marketing development, the company hired Randall Barberis, a foodservice and retailing veteran, as vice president of marketing for Black-eyed Pea. Barberis assumed the position earlier this month.

Same-store sales for Black-eyed Pea rose 0.6 percent for the first quarter of 1999, following Johnston’s appearance in ads for the chain’s new Texas-Sized Chicken Fried Steak. Average weekly sales during the same period rose 2.1 percent. Those increases were enough for DenAmerica to announce a “resurgence” for the 103-unit casual-dining concept. Sales for the fourth quarter of 1998 virtually were unchanged.

“Not only is Moose a hardworking and successful athlete; he is generally a good guy with high personal standards,” Barberis said, explaining why the TV campaign was successful.

Johnston promotes literacy programs and was named the first “reading ambassador” for the state of Texas, Barberis said. He also showed an “iron man mentality” in recovering from injuries that threatened to end his football career. “He’s just the type of person we want customers to identify with,” Barberis said.

The next spots featuring Johnston are timed to coincide with the start of this year’s football season and will promote the standard chicken-fried steak and larger Texas-sized product, which was introduced in Texas and Oklahoma markets, Barberis said.

A minor glitch in producing the ads is that Johnston is identified only as football star, not as a member of the Dallas Cowboys. Tying him directly to the team would have run afoul of National Football League rules on licensing.

Still, Johnston has considerable name recognition in advertising markets. Black-eyed Pea restaurants are located in 13 states, the majority in Texas, Oklahoma and Arizona.

DenAmerica recently agreed to have three remaining units in the Orlando, Fla., area converted to Buddy Freddy’s Country Buffet restaurants in a deal with owner Star Buffet Inc. of Salt Lake City. DenAmerica reportedly said it did not have enough units in the area to generate maximum profits.

The company, however, is moving ahead with expansion plans for Black-eyed Pea, which it called an area of “particular focus.” Three units opened earlier this year, and six more are expected to open by October, according to a DenAmerica financial report. Barberis said about 20 more are being planned, but no timetable for their opening has been set.

Barberis said Black-eyed Pea, which has annual systemwide sales of about $140 million, will support a coming promotion for its core meals of meat loaf, pot roast, and grilled and chicken-fried steak with a multimedia ad campaign. But, for the long term, Barberis said, “we’ll really focus on local-store marketing and the ability of our stores to reach out and be a part of the community, not just a faceless entity.”

He added: “It’s important that we get back to a lot of basic values. That’s what Black-eyed Pea has always stood for,”

Although Barberis declined to say how much the chain would spend on marketing and advertising, he said Black-eyed Pea would evaluate the media it uses for marketing to ensure a “much greater accountability in spending promotional dollars.”

Barberis joined DenAmerica after a career with retail outlets May Co. and Evans and as a franchisee of quick-serve Italian concept Spaghetti Vendors.

He said he was attracted to Black-eyed Pea because its quality and originality “excited me as an opportunity.”

COPYRIGHT 1999 Lebhar-Friedman, Inc.

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