Seeking to remake its floundering Mimi’s Café chain, parent Bob Evans Farms is testing a new prototype that is simultaneously French and American, upscale and budget-friendly. And there are burgers.
The chain’s Valencia, Calif., location is the first of three Mimi’s to receive a brand makeover (ostentatiously dubbed by the company the “French Revolution“) that includes expanding the name to Mimi’s Bakery, Café & Bistro. This unit is divided into six dining areas, each with “a unique ambiance and dining experience,” according to the company release. These areas include Garden, Café, Bistro, Winery, Bar (with full-service Bistro Bar) and Patio areas. There’s also a large retail section selling breads, baked goods and coffee and a new carryout section offer to-go meals. Takeout and grab-and-go foods or baked goods can be eaten in a separate café-seating area. The company’s release labels all this a “revolutionary new store-within-a-store restaurant concept” and quotes Mimi’s President Mark Mears as calling it “the first of its kind within the casual-dining category.” However, standard Mimi’s also offer On the Go takeout and Family Meals To Go options.
The test unit’s revised menu features “a blend of classic American comfort foods and more adventurous French-inspired dishes.” That means there’s a Croissant Egg Soufflé on the breakfast menu and Coq Au Vin at dinner. American elements include a Build Your Own Bistro Burger option, and the dinner menu has a Le Bistro section that allows diners “to customize a meal to fit their specific tastes, appetite and budget.” Also at the lower end of the price spectrum are Petite Plates that can be shared or made a meal by those with limited dining budgets.
Bob Evans Farms bought Mimi’s in 2004 for $182 million. The acquisition has been problematic since and this summer Bob Evans was reported to be seeking a buyer for the Irvine, Calif.-based, 24-state, 145-store chain. For Bob Evans’ 2012 fiscal year ended April 27, 2012, Mimi’s same-store sales were down 4%. That trend has continued: For fiscal 2013’s first quarter, ended July 27, 2012, Mimi’s comp sales declined 3.3%.