The Real Reason Long John Silver’s Is Struggling To Stay Open

Long John Silver’s isn’t the fried fish superstar
that it once was. Let’s take a look at what went wrong with
Long John Silver’s, and what they’re doing to try to turn the tide of this seafood institution. Long John Silver’s was founded in 1969 by
Jim Patterson, who had a simple idea: Bring the sunny seaside fish and chips eating experience
to families nationwide. In 1999, though, the chain was bought by A&W,
which later became part of Yum Brands. That brought a lot of changes. Gone were the traditional Cape Cod-style blue-roofed
buildings filled with nautical bric-a-brac. Instead, many locations became generic fast
food joints, often splitting their space with another Yum Brands chains like A&W or Taco
Bell. “Yum, yum, yum!!” The overall impact to the dining experience
was profound, but it took awhile for the company to right the ship. In 2018, the finally unveiled a new, modern
design based on the original seaside snack shack feel. Whether or not that will turn the tide remains
to be seen. How damaging was the push to have locations
split space with other brands? In 2010, a Long John Silver’s franchisee filed
suit against parent company Yum Brands, alleging that the company “misled” the franchisee in
its determination to co-brand his 26 locations with the A&W brand. The lawsuit alleged that the A&W and Long
John Silver’s co-branding efforts resulted in restaurants that were not as profitable
as stand-alone locations, and made cross-promotion between brands next to impossible. There was also a 2005 class action lawsuit
alleging unfair labor practices, plus other lawsuits from franchisees. The good news? Yum Brands finally gave up, and in 2011 sold
Long John Silver’s to an investment group that included both franchisees and chain founder
Jim Patterson, who hope to right the ship. When Long John Silver’s debuted in the late
’60s, fried food was all the rage. But that was 50 years ago. A half-century later, people are craving healthier
options, and the chain has been slow to respond. A menu overhaul which includes grilled options
and healthier side dishes was finally unveiled in 2018, but it was only rolled out to a few
locations. New COO Blain Shortreed said in 2019 he planned
to focus on rolling out the new menu to more locations over the course of the year. Here’s hoping it’s not too late. “Long John Silver’s, may I help you? Mm-hm, fish strip? Fish strip!” One problem that the chain has very little
control over is the price of seafood. While chains like McDonald’s and Burger King
can buy cheap products at huge profit margins, Long John Silver’s is at the mercy of a seafood
market which is expensive and fickle. Profit margins are thin, meaning that when
other chains slash prices and offer special deals, Long John Silver’s is often unable
to respond in kind, leaving them financially high and dry. “Long John Silver’s is the perfect place to
learn the value of a dollar. Right, boys?’ “Mrs. Salmich?!” Lent is a Catholic religious observance where
members are discouraged from eating red meat on Fridays as a shout out to Jesus and the
40-day fast that led up to his crucifixion. And that results in massive sales boosts for
Long John Silver’s, which begins its Lent marketing six months in advance. In 2017, the chain sold 2 million pounds of
seafood during Lent; on average, Friday sales at Long John Silver’s during Lent go up by
84 percent. You know the old adage: Religious folk love
delicious crustaceans. “As fine a crustacean as a man could ask for!” That’s great, but it means that tens of millions
of customers are treating the chain as a once a year destination, instead of a year round
dining option. Changing that perception would go a long way
to help the bottom line. In 2013, the Center for Science in the Public
Interest named the chain’s “Big Catch” menu item “The Worst Meal in America,” thanks in
part to 33 grams of trans fat to go with 3700 milligrams of sodium among other dietary offenses. CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson
said in a press release that the meal was, “A heart attack on a hook. Instead of the Big Catch, I’d call it America’s
Deadliest Catch.” That bad press didn’t help anything, so it’s
no surprise that a year later, Long John Silver’s announced they were completely removing trans
fat from their menu. Even the chain’s current owners, LJS Partners
LLC, seem like they’d be happy to unload the business, given half the chance. A sale looked imminent in 2015, after LJS
Partners and a Texas-based company called KeyCorp entered into a preliminary sales agreement. However, both companies, quote, “mutually
agreed to terminate the agreement” at the last minute. Now, LJS Partners is left holding the company,
with no plans to sell, quote, “for the foreseeable future.” Sounds like it’s time for someone to finally
figure out how to reignite our national love affair with quick-service fried fish. Check out one of our newest videos right here! Plus, even more Mashed videos about your favorite
restaurants are coming soon. Subscribe to our YouTube channel and hit the
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