Mount Vernon has lost a landmark.
On July 25, 2004, the Roy Rogers in Hybla Valley closed its doors. The good news is that loyal followers, of which there are many, can find the same food and service at three nearby locations — Belle View, Manchester Lakes and Woodlawn.
“We’ve seen customers increase in Belle View and Woodlawn,” said Jim Todd, owner of Todd Restaurants Inc., the company that manages the remaining three franchises.
Some of the regulars from Hybla Valley have started finding their way to Woodlawn and a group was there having breakfast last week. Another regular customer, Paul Floyd, has started coming to the Woodlawn location. An occasional customer, he said he has been coming since they opened Hybla Valley in 1986.
“I like to get a coffee and read the paper,” Floyd said. “They’re very nice.”
THE CLOSING is a casualty of the new Federal Realty venture which is taking over the Mount Vernon Plaza and South Valley Shopping Centers in preparation for their new shopping center that will include Bed, Bath & Beyond; Michaels Arts & Crafts; and Petsmart. The location occupied by Roys will be replaced with a Wachovia Bank.
“We were supposed to close in December, but they asked us to close earlier,” said Jim Todd. “We were at the end of a 20-year lease and the bank was able to invest more. Federal Realty was very accommodating — they were good to work with.”
Todd said that the investment group offered them space further back in the center, but Todd declined. He is looking for an additional space on Richmond Highway to complement his three existing sites.
There may be over 60 Roy Rogers restaurants, but the three that reside in the Mount Vernon area have an added title — neighborhood restaurants. Jim Todd, with the help of sons Jim and Jeff Todd, has built a place for people to call home — Roy Rogers.
JUST LOOK at some of the comments written by customers at the Manchester Lakes location.
Marianne Marsolais writes, “I go out of my way to patronize the Roy Rogers franchises at Woodlawn and at Kingstowne, and would love to see another franchise open in Burke/Springfield in the future.”
Another comment read, “This was my first time here. Glad to have the baked potato! Lucy [the server] was attentive and sincere.”
From Olga Sfara: “When I first moved to Virginia from New York seven years ago, I was living near Manchester Lakes and I liked eating at Roy Rogers. A year after moving down, I moved to Fairfax City so I didn’t return to your restaurant. Today, 6/27/04, I was in the Manchester Lakes area and I came in and was pleasantly surprised to find that your food is delicious. Your baked potato and grilled chicken is better than your competition and you have a better dessert selection than they do. I always thought your competition was pretty good, but you are definitely better.”
“We came to Roy Rogers at 9:50 a.m. One of my children doesn’t like breakfast. We asked what time lunch would be served. The lady behind the counter (Monica) said she we be more than happy to make lunch for us. We were stunned —that has never happened to us before. She is #1 in customer service. She was willing to extend herself beyond the normal job. We left with big smiles,” said Beverly Johnson.
“I did not realize you were located in the shopping plaza. It was the cleanest and friendliest fast food I have been to in a long time. I would tell co-workers and visit when needing a quick lunch,” said Susan Allen.
THEIR LICENSE PLATES give away their passion. Jeff Todd’s car sports the tag, “DBL RR,” while Jim Todd can’t be missed with his “ROY ROGERS” tag. Before he opened his first Roy Rogers franchise, Jim Todd opened a Marriott Hot Shoppes Jr. in 1973, and worked for Marriott until he purchased Hybla Valley and Woodlawn in 1986. He purchased Belle View in 1988 and Manchester Lakes in 1990. It was about this time that Marriott sold Roy Rogers to Hardees. It was a disaster.
“We lost loyal Roy Rogers customers the minute we put up the [Hardees] sign,” Todd said.
He stayed with the program because he firmly believed the Hardees program would work. Within a short time, however, sales had dropped 35 percent. Todd said by 1992, Hardees realized that things weren’t working out and started converting the restaurants back into Roy Rogers. In 1995, CKE Restaurants (Carl’s Jr.) purchased Hardees from their parent company, Imasco, but Imasco retained Roy Rogers.
In the meantime, members of the Plamondon family were buying franchises and working to acquire the franchise rights. In 2002, Jim and Peter Plamondon, Jr. purchased the Roy Rogers trademark rights (as Roy Rogers Franchise Company) from Imasco. They currently operate 15 Roy Rogers Restaurants and 47 franchise locations. This is significantly less than the 648 locations that once comprised the chain — most of these were sold by Hardees to Wendy’s, McDonald’s and others.
THE PLAMONDONS have implemented a “Roy Rogers Rides Again” franchising program that includes marketing programs. The Todd family signed on with them in May and a statement issued by the Plamondon Companies states, “We are pleased to have the Todds join our new program and continue operating their Roy Rogers Restaurants. The Todds' commitment to quality can be seen in their restaurants with cleanliness, friendly associates and delicious food, all strengths of Roy Rogers and what the chain represents. The Todds have carried this philosophy into the communities in which they serve. Since January 1996, Todd Restaurants Roy Rogers have sponsored a ‘School Night’ program attended by students, parents and teachers, and a percentage of sales are donated to the designated school. Since the beginning of this program, over $82,000 has been contributed to local schools. They are also actively involved with community organizations such as 'Meals on Wheels.' Over the years, the Todds have received several awards for their generosity and support. They recently received the ‘Polin Award’ sponsored by The Washington Wizards, for their outstanding dedication to the community.”
WHILE THE WOODLAWN LOCATION does get a considerable amount of bus traffic in the summer, much of their business comes from regulars like Vincie Sawyer, Marge Coursen, Eric Wilder, Arlin Kottman, Ervin Salley, Claude Breitenbach, and Wardell Alston.
They are part of a group that has been coming to Woodlawn for close to 10 years. Sawyer and Coursen met at Roy Rogers and have been friends ever since. Coursen said that she just gets coffee when she comes in, which is almost every day.
“Some days we miss,” she said.
“I used to come every day with my husband, Robert,” Sawyer said. “I still come quite often.”
Salley said that he comes and eats the biscuits, while Breitenbach said that he likes the sandwiches.
“They have good food here,” Kottman said. While this might be a contrast in terms for some chain restaurants, it’s something that’s important to Roy Rogers. They recently introduced a Phillips Chef’s Choice Crab Cake Sandwich as a limited time only promotion.
The Plamondon Companies also introduced a new line of salads that includes Caesar, Chicken Caesar, Garden, Chef and Bacon Chicken Ranch.
“It’s just a gathering place,” Breitenbach said.
“We see the owner just about every night,” Salley said.
Nobody questioned it when Yenigal (Rose) Fetzner delivered Wilder’s breakfast to the table the other morning; it’s just one of the many special touches. He and several of the other men are retired military and said that while he was stationed in many locations, he always returned to this area.
Kottman is retired from the Federal Government and said, “I’ve been coming for breakfast everyday for at least 10 years. It’s a social atmosphere. They [the Todds] are very people oriented. I don’t know how they do it, but they have good help. They have good managers at all their stores.”