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FOOD

Friendly’s to launch a quick-service café model in Westfield

Pair your Fribble with burgers that look like flying saucers.

The parent company of Friendly's sold much of the chain's assets in 2020 to Amici Partners Group, LLC. A Friendly's quick-service location has been announced to arrive in February 2022.Handout

Friendly’s is going modern with Friendly’s Café, a concept whose pilot location will open on Westfield’s East Main Street in early February. Unlike its predecessors, this branch will specialize in counter-service ordering, curbside takeout, and delivery. Those who prefer to linger over floats can still dine inside, ordering from a QR code.

It’s a COVID-induced pivot for a brand known mainly for sit-down sundaes, in an era that has been anything but friendly to restaurants.

“This is the culmination of what the pandemic has changed. Prior to the pandemic, off-premise dining, carryout, and delivery was only about 10 percent of the business. The pandemic changed all that,” says Friendly’s chief executive Craig Erlich.

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Pictured here, a rendering of the inside of the new Friendly's café, a version of the restaurant that has adapted to pandemic conditions.Handout

Western Massachusetts has always been a sweet spot for the chain, which was founded in Springfield in 1935. However, business soured in the 21st century: Friendly’s filed for bankruptcy protection in October 2011, and many locations closed. In 2020, FIC Restaurants, Inc., the company that operated Friendly’s, announced a plan to sell most of its assets to Amici Partners Group, LLC, which runs many casual-dining chains.

Still, Friendly’s held a sentimental place in the hearts of many who grew up on its peanut butter cup sundaes and patty melts. The new iteration will hold on to “fan favorites,” says Erlich, but with updates. For instance, a “cheese skirt” burger features melted cheese with burnt ends.

“It looks like a flying saucer. You crack off the melted cheese like a chip. It’s a great-tasting burger,” Erlich says.

There’s also a burger mixed with Doritos, similar to a Sloppy Joe.

“Whatever you don’t get to eat in the sandwich, you can take with your chips and scoop up the rest. It’s a cool, innovative [dish] that the team has been working on,” he says.

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Presumably, Friendly’s is hoping that this blend of nostalgia and modernity is the cherry on the sundae for a fresh generation of diners.

“It’s a new world for us — a café, with a little more of a contemporary feel,” he says.


Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.