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Outback owner banks on takeout by growing Tender Shack and Aussie Grill

With the pandemic increasing takeout demands, the Tampa company is expanding a new ghost kitchen and fast-casual restaurant.
Carrabba's across Florida and Tampa Bay are now serving as ghost kitchen's for Bloomin' Brands new online-only restaurant Tender Shack. The Tampa company has been focusing more on takeout since the start of the pandemic.
Carrabba's across Florida and Tampa Bay are now serving as ghost kitchen's for Bloomin' Brands new online-only restaurant Tender Shack. The Tampa company has been focusing more on takeout since the start of the pandemic. [ Bloomin' Brands ]
Published Oct. 23, 2020

TAMPA — Dining rooms across Florida may be reopened, but the number of takeout orders are still about double at Bloomin' Brands restaurants than they were before the pandemic.

The Outback Steakhouse owners are latching on to that demand, expanding both fast-casual Aussie Grill and new virtual restaurant Tender Shack. The new eateries focus on delivery and carryout, adding variety to the company’s standard sit-down restaurants: Outback, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse.

“The demand was always there,” said Bloomin' Brands CEO David Deno. “We had a very successful delivery and carryout business prior to the pandemic. Then the pandemic happened and (it) became more and more and more important."

Deno said while delivery and takeout used to make up about 20 percent of its overall orders, it’s now at nearly 40 percent.

Bloomin' launched Tender Shack last month, but the restaurant only exists online, a concept commonly referred to as a ghost kitchen. Tender Shack meals are prepared inside select Carrabba’s kitchens and the orders are only available through delivery app DoorDash. The menu focuses on chicken fingers, chicken sandwiches, fries and a variety of sauces.

Related: UberEats is fueling a 'ghost' restaurant trend in the Tampa Bay area

“Chicken is a large and growing category, very popular, and relatively easy for us to cook,” Deno said.

Carrabba’s already had the fryers, Deno said, so the start-up costs are minimal. During a Friday morning phone conference with investors he declined to share exact figures about the virtual restaurant’s success but said it has been beating expectations.

Tender Shack is already available across Florida and Texas and is growing its footprint in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri.

Bloomin' has been testing its Outback offshoot Aussie Grill since last year, first opening inside Tampa International Mall and then the Westfield Brandon mall. Bloomin' started testing a standalone location in Lutz in May and is moving forward with expanding that prototype, which includes a drive-through, to Central Florida.

The company’s indoor dining is still growing as more of the country reopens or loosens COVID-19 restrictions. As of Friday, Bloomin' said 99 percent of its restaurant’s dining rooms had reopened.

Related: Outback Steakhouse in Florida leads Bloomin’ Brands despite coronavirus spikes

While some chains' pandemic-induced losses have forced them into bankruptcy, Bloomin' Brands strategy has kept it from taking such drastic measures. But it is still dealing with its own dips in revenue.

It reported a net loss of $17.6 million for the third quarter, which ended Sept. 27. Year to date, the company’s net loss is nearly $145 million. This past quarter, sales were down about 13 percent across all of the company’s restaurants.

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Bloomin’s stock price closed at $16.26 Friday, down about 8 percent per share from a day earlier.