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Back to the Burger Future: A Recipe for Franchise Success?

MAYNARD, Mass. (MainStreet) -- 5 & Diner, a 50s-themed restaurant franchise, is looking to cash in on nostalgia for a simpler, more prosperous era.

In the 1950s, the diner was a mainstay in American culture. The establishment was a place where teens and families came to eat burgers and fries, pot roast and milkshakes. It was the center of social activity as jukeboxes played and open seating was designed to encourage socialization.

Rebuilding America one milkshake at a time.

The Great Recession has left its mark on America in the form of stubbornly high unemployment and a long foreclosure pipeline. Harkening to a 1950s-1960s period when unemployment was below 3% and home mortgage rates equally low could be refreshing for consumers, or in a word, instill in today's diner the word most commonly associated with that halcyon era: happiness.

"We're trying to make America a happier place and that's what 5 & Diner is about," CEO Bob Watson says. "I tell customers all the time we are rebuilding America one milkshake at a time."

It's in this way that 5 & Diner, which currently has 12 restaurants, plans to grab a larger piece of the so-called family dining industry. It's a big, if slowly growing restaurant sector, reaching $34 billion in annual sales last year.

Watson was at first a 5 & Diner franchisee before claiming his corporate position. He and his wife Laurie are owners of LPM Holding Co., a large food service contractor, catering and event rental company in Maynard, Mass.

The Watsons were looking to diversify their business operations but stay in the food business. Since it was their first take at running a restaurant they wanted the safety of a franchised system.

They looked at many concepts but bought the rights to a 5 & Diner. In 2006, they opened a restaurant in in Worcester, Mass.

"We looked at everything from Dairy Queen to Burger King to Johnny Rockets and we settled on 5 & Diner because of how cool we thought the place was. Staff is dressed like the '50 and '60s. The menu is what you would call comfort food. Laurie and I went to visit and we just absolutely loved it," Watson says. "It's really difficult to go in there and not be happy."

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