Metro Diner: Comfort Food’s Comfortable Growth Pace

Hugh Connerty, Jr. was a fan of the Metro Diner  concept even before becoming the brand’s co-chairman.
“It”s not your typical dinner,” the self-proclaimed foodie told Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine. “Something magical happens with good comfort good.”
Founded in 1992 by the Davoli family in Jacksonville, Florida, Metro Diner recently celebrated its 50th restaurant opening in Sarasota and is focused on expanding the brand in other markets across the U.S.  
Metro Diner already has locations in Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia. In 2018, the company will open its first locations in New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and South Carolina. Due to the rapid expansion, Metro Diner is creating 3,700 new jobs, including more than 150 new management positions nationwide this year alone. The company expects to open 35 restaurants this year and is on target to open between 45 and 48 the following year, Connerty said. 
One key reason Connerty attributes to the brand’s successful momentum is an emphasis on keeping things local.
Hugh Connerty
“We consider ourselves a company of restaurants, not a restaurant company,” he said. “We’re a network of operators in local marketing with local partners. Metro Diner is a company of diners, each one individually owned in their communities that follow the ‘family first’ values established by our founding family, the Davoli’s.”
Each location is recognized as the place where the locals eat, according to company executives.
“I’m dedicated to defining Metro Diner as the total family dining experience, as family is the core of the company’s business operations,” said Mark Davoli who co-founded Metro Diner with his father, John Sr. and his brother John Jr. “With my partners Chris Sullivan, a founder of Outback Steakhouse, Hugh Connerty, Jr. and Carl Sahlsten – we made fun, family and exciting the words to live by at Metro Diner and are dedicating our attention to growth.”
From a real estate perspective, Metro Diner has a built-in flexibility, he noted. With seating for approximately 125 guests, the concept can work in many environments.
Other reasons for the brand’s success include value creation and “unique” hospitality, Connerty pointed out. The brand prides itself on warm, welcoming service and offering large portion sizes and indulgent comfort food with flair with most dishes priced under $15. The brand’s made-from-scratch menu features quality signature dishes including Fried Chicken and Waffles, Charleston Shrimp & Grits, and Meatloaf Plate. 
With the expansion moving to markets in the northeast known for their diner culture, Connerty believes Metro Diner will continue to attract new guests.
“We do things a little different than a typical diner,” he said. “We will compete very well.”