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via @Fazolis on Twitter

11 Unlimited Facts About Fazoli’s

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via @Fazolis on Twitter

After nearly three decades and billions (that’s right: billions) of free breadsticks, the chain known for real Italian, real fast has been through a lot. But even if you know your way around the baked ziti or the Primo Submarino, we’re willing to bet there are a few things you don’t know about Fazoli’s.

1. IT STARTED IN THAT HOTBED FOR ITALIAN CUISINE: KENTUCKY.

Jerrico Inc., a Lexington-based restaurant company that also at the time owned Long John Silver's, opened the first Fazoli’s in Ashland, Kentucky in 1988. A year later, it opened four more in nearby Lexington, and soon after expanded to Orlando. Today, there are 220 Fazoli’s restaurants across the U.S.

2. IS IT FAST FOOD OR FAST CASUAL? MAYBE BOTH?

The brass at Fazoli’s refers to the restaurant as fast casual, putting it in the same company as Chipotle and Panera. But they concede that offering “real Italian, real fast” means they share more customers with the likes of McDonald’s and Burger King. “Our research shows us that when they want to go some place nicer than McDonald’s or Burger King, they’ll go to Fazoli’s,” Jon Quinn, the company’s VP of marketing, told the trade publication Fast Casual.

3. THEIR MENU NEEDED SOME WORK.

After years of lackluster sales, Fazoli’s decided it needed to turn things around. And that meant taking a good hard look at its menu, which tended to focus on fast over flavor. Or, to put it more bluntly, “Customers were leaving because the food quality was terrible,” an Ohio franchisee told Columbus Business First. So Fazoli’s hired a restaurant consulting firm, and last year introduced 20 new menu items, including pasta dishes, new sandwiches and salads, and a build-your-own pizza.

4. THEY’RE ALSO UPDATING THEIR STORE DESIGN.

With the menu upgrade comes a fresh new look for Fazoli’s locations. The new restaurant prototype includes LED lighting, green awnings, and a more prominent logo. There’ll also be a 35-foot-tall tower rising above it all like a beacon for unlimited breadsticks.

5. LOCATIONS GO THROUGH HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF BREADSTICKS PER YEAR.

People are serious about those unlimited breadsticks. One manager in Michigan estimates he goes through more than 600,000 a year, or 1000 per shift. The company, meanwhile, estimates its restaurants make more than 100 million breadsticks every year. Do the math over three decades, and we’re talking about billions of breadsticks.

6. THEY’VE SPED UP DRIVE-THRU SERVICE.

The average time spent in the drive-thru line is going up across the country. But Fazoli’s is trying to bring down its times. An internal program called “Drive Under Five” aims to get orders filled in under five minutes by re-training employees, improving sign boards and putting food in more efficient packaging.

7. MANAGERS WILL REFILL YOUR DRINK.

As yet another part of its recent revamp, Fazoli’s decided to bring managers out from behind the counter. Their new role as “guest ambassadors” has them mingling with customers, re-filling drinks and other small tasks. Topic for conversation: What do they do with all the leftover breadsticks?

8. THEY TRIED OPENING AN ITALIAN CHIPOTLE.

Back in 2014, Fazoli’s tried its hand at a different Italian restaurant concept—one in which customers filled wrap-like “piadas” with customizable ingredients like steak, chicken, and vegetables. Sound familiar? The “Italian Chipotle,” as many customers referred to it (official name: Venti-Tre), debuted in Baltimore. Within a year, it was closed.

9. SENIOR CITIZENS GET THE VIP TREATMENT.

Lots of restaurants offer a senior citizens discount. Fazoli’s has its own club. Created for what it calls “experienced eaters,” Fazoli’s Club 62 gives out special meal deals, $1 drinks, and legitimate bragging rights against children and grandchildren. There’s an official card, of course. The company also recently gave away free drinks to anyone playing bridge in its restaurants.

10. SOME FANS TRAVELED 400 MILES FOR THE BREADSTICKS.

Unlimited breadsticks are nice, but worth a three-hour drive each way? Four friends from Orlando certainly thought so. After their local Fazoli’s closed down, they drove up to the nearest location in Georgia. The restaurant plied them with all the breadsticks they could handle, and even picked up the tab.

11. THEY WANT COUPLES TO GET ENGAGED IN THEIR RESTAURANTS.

For a few years there, Fazoli’s offered a sweetheart of a deal: Free spaghetti for a year to any couple who got engaged inside their restaurants on Valentine’s Day. Sounds romantic, no? Sadly, the company hasn’t renewed the offer since 2014.

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Pop Culture
How Jimmy Buffett Turned 'Margaritaville' Into a Way of Life
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Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Few songs have proven as lucrative as “Margaritaville,” a modest 1977 hit by singer and songwriter Jimmy Buffett that became an anthem for an entire life philosophy. The track was the springboard for Buffett’s business empire—restaurants, apparel, kitchen appliances, and more—marketing the taking-it-easy message of its tropical print lyrics.

After just a few years of expanding that notion into other ventures, the “Parrot Heads” of Buffett’s fandom began to account for $40 million in annual revenue—and that was before the vacation resorts began popping up.

Jimmy Buffett performs for a crowd
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

“Margaritaville,” which turned 40 this year, was never intended to inspire this kind of devotion. It was written after Buffett, as an aspiring musician toiling in Nashville, found himself in Key West, Florida, following a cancelled booking in Miami and marveling at the sea of tourists clogging the beaches.

Like the other songs on his album, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, it didn’t receive a lot of radio play. Instead, Buffett began to develop his following by opening up for The Eagles. Even at 30, Buffett was something less than hip—a flip-flopped performer with a genial stage presence that seemed to invite an easygoing vibe among crowds. “Margaritaville,” an anthem to that kind of breezy attitude, peaked at number eight on the Billboard charts in 1977. While that’s impressive for any single, its legacy would quickly evolve beyond the music industry's method for gauging success.

What Buffett realized as he continued to perform and tour throughout the early 1980s is that “Margaritaville” had the ability to sedate audiences. Like a hypnotist, the singer could immediately conjure a specific time and place that listeners wanted to revisit. The lyrics painted a scene of serenity that became a kind of existential vacation for Buffett's fans:

Nibblin' on sponge cake,
Watchin' the sun bake;
All of those tourists covered with oil.
Strummin' my six string on my front porch swing.
Smell those shrimp —
They're beginnin' to boil.

By 1985, Buffett was ready to capitalize on that goodwill. In Key West, he opened a Margaritaville store, which sold hats, shirts, and other ephemera to residents and tourists looking to broadcast their allegiance to his sand-in-toes fantasy. (A portion of the proceeds went to Save the Manatees, a nonprofit organization devoted to animal conservation.) The store also sold the Coconut Telegraph, a kind of propaganda newsletter about all things Buffett and his chill perspective.

When Buffett realized patrons were coming in expecting a bar or food—the song was named after a mixed drink, after all—he opened a cafe adjacent to the store in late 1987. The configuration was ideal, and through the 1990s, Buffett and business partner John Cohlan began erecting Margaritaville locations in Florida, New Orleans, and eventually Las Vegas and New York. All told, more than 21 million people visit a Buffett-inspired hospitality destination every year.

A parrot at Margaritaville welcomes guests
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Margaritaville-branded tequila followed. So, too, did a line of retail foods like hummus, a book of short stories, massive resorts, a Sirius radio channel, and drink blenders. Buffett even wrote a 242-page script for a Margaritaville movie that he had hoped to film in the 1980s. It’s one of the very few Margaritaville projects that has yet to have come to fruition, but it might be hard for Buffett to complain much. In 2015, his entire empire took in $1.5 billion in sales.

As of late, Buffett has signed off on an Orlando resort due to open in 2018, offering “casual luxury” near the boundaries of Walt Disney World. (One in Hollywood, Florida, is already a hit, boasting a 93 percent occupancy rate.) Even for guests that aren’t particularly familiar with his music, “Jimmy Buffett” has become synonymous with comfort and relaxation just as surely as Walt Disney has with family entertainment. The association bodes well for a business that will eventually have to move beyond Buffett’s concert-going loyalists.

Not that he's looking to leave them behind. The 70-year-old Buffett is planning on a series of Margaritaville-themed retirement communities, with the first due to open in Daytona Beach in 2018. More than 10,000 Parrot Heads have already registered, eager to watch the sun set while idling in a frame of mind that Buffett has slowly but surely turned into a reality.

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Design
The Secret to the World's Most Comfortable Bed Might Be Yak Hair
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Tengi

Savoir Beds laughs at your unspooling mail-order mattresses and their promises of ultimate comfort. The UK-based company has teamed with London's Savoy Hotel to offer what they’ve declared is one of the most luxurious nights of sleep you’ll ever experience. 

What do they have that everyone else lacks? About eight pounds of Mongolian yak hair.

The elegantly-named Savoir No. 1 Khangai Limited Edition is part of the hotel’s elite Royal Suite accommodations. For $1845 a night, guests can sink into the mattress with a topper stuffed full of yak hair from Khangai, Mongolia. Hand-combed and with heat-dispensing properties, it takes 40 yaks to make one topper. In a press release, collaborator and yarn specialist Tengri claims it “transcends all levels of comfort currently available.”

Visitors opting for such deluxe amenities also have access to a hair stylist, butler, chef, and a Rolls-Royce with a driver.

Savoir Beds has entered into a fair-share partnership with the farmers, who receive an equitable wage in exchange for the fibers, which are said to be softer than cashmere. If you’d prefer to luxuriate like that every night, the purchase price for the bed is $93,000. Purchased separately, the topper is $17,400. Act soon, as only 50 of the beds will be made available each year. 

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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