What’s going on at Fuddruckers in 2021?

Howdy folks, and welcome to another entry into what almost became truly “historic retail” in Houston, Fuddruckers! The beloved burger joint was saved at the last minute earlier this year. Luby’s Inc. who announced their intent to dissolve their company over a year ago had looked for but was unable to find a buyer for any of their restaurant chains. Fortunately, at what was truly the last minute, an offer was accepted by the company’s largest franchisee. Who agreed not only to buy the brand, and operations, but the remaining corporate stores as well. Black Titan Franchise Systems has been at the helm of Fuddrucker’s for a few months now, and I wanted to put a cap on a liquidation that came to my attention here as a single closing of Fuddruckers in 2018.

Fudd’s was a disorganized mess under Luby’s. The company itself has a wild history. Starting out in San Antonio in 1979 “Freddie Fuddruckers” as the first few locations were known popularized on the “yuppie” high quality fast food concept early on. By 1985 the company had over 100 locations going up against competitors like Flakey Jake’s. The same year, the company founder Phil Romano sold the chain and left to work on Romano’s Macaroni Grill. With a bit of an over expansion on their hands, Fuddruckers cut their numbers back down to double digits. Daka Industries who purchased the chain would again bring the numbers up into the hundreds by the mid 90s. They would even experiment with adding Fuddrucker’s locations into Home Depots. By the late 90s, Fuddruckers and all of Daka’s other restaurants were spun off into a company named Unique Casual. The store count would sore to above 200. In 1998 Fuddruckers would again be sold, this time to an entrepreneur who would start to neglect the company. While it wasn’t anything massive, the restaurant was left to subsist rather than innovate. By 2010 the company had shrunk by almost half, and the parent company Magic Brands went into Bankruptcy.

Photos from a recent visit to the Stafford location

Luby’s almost immediately swooped in and purchased Magic Brands during their bankruptcy. The company was seemingly flush with cash, after its acquisition of Cheeseburger in Paradise the prior year. Under Luby’s Fuddruckers would initially flourish. Receiving comprehensive and consistent updates to branding. Like the new logo seen on the bread mix, which was officially adopted. New more streamlined decor, doing away with the plaster statues, and car parts. The menu was also updated to feature a larger variety of options, including a rotating menu of Luby’s specials. The cafeteria chain would even adopt selling the Fuddruckers wedges at certain locations! While the future seemed bright for Fuddruckers under Luby’s, the chain was never really able to obtain much growth. Despite Luby’s opening a few new co-branded, and even freestanding locations, early on not much progress was made in terms of new stores. When Luby’s entered liquidation it was expected that they would be quickly and easily able to find a buyer for Fuddruckers, however this wasn’t the case. Property was sold to help lighten the load of the prospective buyers, and in a Hail Mary moment, the current ownership took over. While we have yet to see the exact future of Fuddruckers it doesn’t seem like much is going to change soon at least.

3 comments

  1. I do like Fuddruckers decor these days. They kept a few elements from their previous “Cracker Barrel but with Rock ‘n Roll” decor package, tossed in a few other things unique to the franchisees, and cleared out all of the clutter. It’s a big improvement over the old look, and even over the old-old look where they had braggadocious newspaper clippings hung up everywhere (a decor element that Five Guys took and cranked up to 11).

    That said, be aware as you enter the Town & Country location that Jake and Elwood Blues are RIGHT THERE in the entryway. They’ve startled more than a few folks since they reappeared.

  2. I certainly remember when there was a real buzz about Fuddruckers. For many people, it was the place to go for hamburgers in the 1980s and early 1990s. Unfortunately for them, a lot of premium ‘fast-n-casual’ hamburger places like Five Guys have gained popularity since then and Fuddruckers has been somewhat left behind. Still, it’s good to see that they’re going to have an opportunity to continue on into the future.

    Perhaps Fuddruckers needs more attention-grabbing TV advertisements like this one from 1984! Link: https://youtu.be/Emjj_cyM4l0

    1. I would argue that Fuddruckers’ burgers hang tough in both quality and value with the other “better burger” places, but boy do they lack a unique hook like most of their competitors have and their attempts to establish one have largely faltered. Special sauces, unique fries, expansive and exotic toppings – Fudds has tried and pulled back from all of these. They do have the self-serve toppings station, something that probably doesn’t hold the appeal it did just a few years ago, and they do “just a burger” quite well, but a lot of customers seem to be looking for something hipper. Me? I’ll take the ability to put whole leaves of lettuce on my burger.

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