All About the Benningans

Casual dining, a robust and profitable industry, has been on a steady decline in recent years now. Hence, many ubiquitous restaurant chains that fed everyone in shopping centers and food courts barely exist. Bennigans, too, has a tale no different.

It is an Irish-pub-themed American restaurant for casual dining. The first location opened in Atlanta in 1976 by the famous restaurateur Norman E. Brinker.  

It was amongst the first American original casual dining concepts. While Benningans has not ceased to exist, it no longer has the success it did before. Let us have a look at everything about Bennigans!

The History of Bennigans

Image of the old logo.

Although the concept was by Norman E. Brinker, the founder of Steak and Ale, it started as a venture by Pillsbury Corporation. The first location opened in 1979 in Atlanta. The first significant one was in Tysons Corner, Virginia, the subsequent year. 

By the early 1980s, Bennigans had become a prominent casual dining restaurant chain. In 1983, an exodus of senior management from Steak and Ale and the Bennigans division purchased a smaller restaurant chain. It focused on gourmet hamburgers — yes, you are thinking right, Chili!

Meanwhile, this restaurant chain continues to grow throughout the US. It also opened in fourteen more countries. 

Pillsbury got acquired by Grand Metropolitan in 1989. As a big liquor distributor brand like Bombay gin, J&B, and other spirits, Grand Metropolitan, under Tied house laws, could not own a liquor retailer. It had to spin both the chains off. 

By the 2000s, Bennigans had 300 locations nationwide and internationally. However, soon, the decline started. The executives failed to put forth new ideas for repeat customers. New competitors were emerging. John Owens, a Morningstar analyst, believed that Benningans was the weakest of the major players.

Bennigans closed some of its New England and New York locations by May 2006. 

In July 2008, all of the Bennigans 150 corporate locations across the US were closed. The parent company Metromedia Restaurant Group filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. 

Initially, the 138 franchisee-owned locations remained open, but many later closed in the months and years after the bankruptcy filing. Several international locations, however, remained open.

In 2011 new management of the firm stated that they wanted to return the brand to its roots. In an interview, CEO Paul Mangiamele revealed that their strategy to turn the brand around was multi-pronged. The company introduced a new logo,  an updated menu, store prototype, catering operation, financial and franchise models, improved marketing, and a new attitude. 

Paul Mangiamele and Gwen closed on the MBO from its parent private equity firm. The price remains undisclosed. The new company, Legendary Restaurant Brands, now owns the restaurant chain. 

The Happy Hours and Monte Cristo

Image of the new prototype.

Places with 2-for-1 happy hour drinks with a menu tasting the same today is a rarity. However, in the 1970s, this idea was pretty novel. 

Bennigans popularity skyrocketed because of the happy hours and the ever-famous Monte Cristo sandwich. It had ham, turkey, and cheese that was battered and then deep-fried. 

But it was not just the deep-fried sandwiches that made it famous. It also had deep-fried broccoli, fried steak, and Buffalo wings. Another big draw was Death By Chocolate. It was an indulgent dessert consisting of chocolate ice cream, almonds, mini marshmallows, chocolate fudge sauce, Twix, and a crumbled Oreo cookie crust covered by a chocolate shell. 

Bennigans was featured on TV and satirized in movies

Image of a restaurant in Denver, Colorado.

Almost everyone recalls the legendary 2005 film Waiting, starring Ryan Reynolds and Justin Long, and how it accurately depicted life working in a chain restaurant. Though the restaurant in the movie is called Shenanigans, Roger Ebert described it as Chili’s crossed with Bennigans in his review.

Some may see parallels between Bennigans and the flamboyant Chotchkies in Office Space. Though, those scenes were at the now-defunct Alligator Grill in Austin.

It also featured in some episodes of South Park. Here, the recurring character Butters had an obsession with the restaurant. It is most evident in Season Five, where Butters goes on a quest for his father through the city. He wants to enjoy an anniversary dinner with his mom at Bennigans. It was one of the first things he built to resurrect society. 

About Benningans Today

Image of a new logo.

As of June 2018, there are 18 international and 15 United States locations. Furthermore, according to the CEO, Paul Mangiamele, Bennigan has over 100 units in development, including international locations in Amsterdam, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Pakistan.

The Bottomline

Bennigans is one classic restaurant chain that is struggling hard to survive. The old leadership boards failed to keep up with the increasing competition. Furthermore, they did not introduce much on the table. 

However, it has been making a comeback ever since it came under Paul Mangiamele. The team is looking forward to opening more locations at tourist hot spots. During COVID, the restaurant chain became more prominent because of its effective services. You are more likely to find branches in small cities of the US right now. We hope that their efforts to dress this chain for success live to tell the tale!