Village Inn opens inside Granite City under new co-branding arrangement

Granite City Village Inn

The co-branded location in Maple Grove, Minn., has signage from both concepts. / Photo courtesy of BBQ Holdings

The Granite City Food & Brewery in Maple Grove, Minn., is making room for breakfast.

The brand’s sister concept, a.m. chain Village Inn, has taken up residence in the brewpub, which will now serve Village Inn’s menu from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Granite City’s from 11 a.m. to close.

The dual-branded restaurant is part of an ongoing plan by parent company BBQ Holdings to squeeze more revenue out of its stores. The addition of the morning daypart to the existing Granite City is expected to increase the location’s sales by 25%, said CEO Jeff Crivello.

That will come on what BBQ hopes will be the same pool of staff. The addition of Village Inn gives workers more flexibility in their shifts, a benefit that should allow the restaurant to cover the longer hours, Crivello said.

The one hurdle may be getting customers used to the unusual setup. Crivello said it will simply have to come from experience. After a grand opening earlier this week, he said “people are getting it.”

“They just need to understand that [Village Inn’s] food is available there,” he said. “Everyone knows it as Granite City.” 

Village Inn signThe Maple Grove Village Inn features more elevated branding and food.  / Photo courtesy of BBQ Holdings

The Granite City just off Interstate 694 outside Minneapolis is one of the chain’s highest-performing locations and has a good group of regular customers, Crivello said. Locals should also be familiar with Village Inn, which has three locations in Minnesota. 

But the dual-branded version features a new, more upscale iteration of the breakfast concept, including updated branding and elevated menu items. Cheesecake French toast, acai bowls and avocado toast will be offered for the first time alongside Village Inn’s usual budget-friendly fare, Crivello said.

Customers “are not used to seeing this imagery, this branding,” he said. “It’s a whole new elevated upscale-type breakfast concept.” 

Each brand will be treated as its own entity at the restaurant. The exterior now has signage for both, and when guests sit down, they’ll get a menu featuring items from each.

Village Inn pancakes

Plussed-up dishes like banana cream pancakes are new to Village Inn’s menu. / Photo courtesy of BBQ Holdings

The arrangement brings together two of BBQ’s recent acquisitions. It bought Granite City, an 18-unit Midwestern brewpub concept, in March 2020, and added 125-unit Village Inn last July, along with pie chain Bakers Square.

BBQ now owns a total of 10 brands, including the flagship Famous Dave’s as well as some smaller barbecue concepts, Tahoe Joe’s Steakhouse and the upscale Mexican chain Barrio Queen.

The flurry of M&A under Crivello is one pillar of BBQ’s growth strategy. Expanding its holdings in turn allows it to mix and match complimentary brands to boost sales. Famous Dave’s franchisees, for instance, can opt in to selling Bakers Square pies in their restaurants, and Crivello has said BBQ is on the lookout for a pizza concept it can pair with Dave’s.

According to SEC filings, Granite City’s kitchens were designed to do $6 million in sales every year, but before the pandemic, its AUVs were just $3.9 million. It estimated that adding Village Inn would generate an additional $1 million annually per location.

If the marriage of Granite City and Village Inn goes well in Maple Grove, the company will expand it to other locations, the CEO said. But he admitted that the co-branding approach is risky.

“It’s really cutting-edge. Not many restaurant companies are willing to do this, or willing to take the risk,” he said. “If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But at least we tried.”

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