El Pollo Loco corporate has taken over operations of its restaurants in Atlanta as of last Thursday. Fiesta Brands, its franchisee for the Atlanta market apparently was facing foreclosure and corporate assumed control of the stores rather than shuttering them all. Closing five of nine, the most successful stores, including locations on Cobb Parkway and Buford Highway were saved, for now. In late 2007 Fiesta Brands signed a franchise agreement that gave them the rights to open 50 units within the 53-county demographic area over six years, but clearly that will no longer happen.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Fiesta Brands COO, Joe Uhl last year at the Buford Highway location and he expressed then that the brand was experiencing an identity crisis of sorts. The units in Atlanta were state of the art, all built from the ground up with the food served to your table, the line between fast food and quick serve restaurant seemed blurred. Not knowing how best to market the line may have lead to their downfall. Perhaps Atlantans were not quite ready to think "Outside The Bell?" With Willy's Mexicana Grill at a slightly higher price-point and Taco Bell lower, it seems El Pollo Loco just wasn’t able to carve out a big enough niche to make a go of it.
The build-outs and equipment of the Atlanta locations were quite expensive as well, with some nearing $2 million. This past June, locations in Cumming, Hiram and Marietta were rebranded "The Crazy Chicken" (El Pollo Loco) but it seems even that could not save them as just a few months later they were the first to be shuttered.