Seafood-and-chicken chain looks to build local network

Franchisees aiming for three units in next 15 months, at least two more after that

A pair of veteran regional restaurant operators have signed a franchise deal to bring a handful of fast-casual restaurants serving seafood and chicken fare with a healthy twist to the Nashville area.

Memphis-based Luke McKee and Steve Salverda plan to open five Boneheads locations in Middle Tennessee by the end of 2015, with the first one expected to open its doors early next year.

Boneheads is out to build a new niche in the hypercompetitive dining sector by emphasizing its assortment of low-calorie grilled fish items — setting it apart from fast-food purveyors such as Captain D’s that specialize in fried food — as well as piri piri chicken offerings spiced with South African-style sauces. Because of that, McKee said his team will look to locate its units near colleges and hospitals, where dining palates will generally be more refined and/or adventurous.

“Where we go matters. We have to be cognizant of that,” McKee said. “In certain parts of the region, it will be more difficult to reach our target audience.”

McKee, who with Salverda has opened Tim Horton’s and Red Rooster locations in West and Middle Tennessee, said his target areas include Green Hills, Brentwood, West End, Mt. Juliet and Murfreesboro.

McKee and officials at Atlanta-based Boneheads began talking early this year about bringing the concept to Middle Tennessee with the help of real estate pro Fletcher Elkington. Benton Smith, area developer for the company, says Nashville is one of the hottest markets in the country for fast-casual dining chains.

Boneheads’ Middle Tennessee expansion is part of a broader push to take the concept national. Smith said he and other area developers aim to open 60 units by the end of 2014. The chain’s network now stands at five with four other units under construction.

“We know the window of opportunity is small,” Smith said. “We won’t always be the only one.”

Among the competitors Boneheads will have to fend off is Nashville-based Captain D’s, where CEO Phil Greifeld has led a sales turnaround based in part on refreshing its menu with grilled items. Trade pub QSR wrote more about that last month.