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Preserving a legacy while modernizing a brand

Posted on Categories BrandonomicsTags

Make new friends but keep the old: Michelle Holmes, director of marketing for James Coney Island shares how they're bridging the gap between their legacy brand and their "refreshed" brand, JCI Grill.

Robin: Hello and welcome to this edition of Brandonomics, an inside look at top brands and their marketing strategies. I am Robin Tooms, Vice President of Strategy at Savage Brands, and my guest again is Michelle Holmes, Director of Marketing at James Coney Island. So, Michelle, welcome back.

Michelle: Hi, Robin.

Robin: Well, I want to talk some about how James Coney Island is really doing this brand refresh right. So you’re doing a lot in your brand strategy to make sure that you’re moving forward without kind of discarding what you’ve achieved in the past. So can you explain how are you going about this?

Michelle: Absolutely, Robin. We’re really doing a more gradual rollout of the brand refresh. It’s important for us to leverage where we are in our heritage so that we can keep our current and loyal customers engaged, but also at the same time we need to bring awareness that we’re more than just a hot dog stand; that we’ve got great grill menu items; and to try to attract a different demographic that we’re just missing completely right now.

Robin: Right. So making sure you retain those loyal customers as well.

Michelle: Absolutely.

Robin: So part of that is making sure that you’re doing some bridging strategies, but also doing some symbolic changes. So can you give us an example of that?

Michelle: The main thing that we’re doing right now with the JCI Grill Brand is trying to bring that refresh and that more hip look to the exterior of some of our locations. We joke around James Coney Island that we’re still wearing the leisure suit while our competition has been revamping and kind of modernizing their units before us. So we’re looking to take that leisure suit off. We feel like making that exterior change really makes people stop and wonder, wow, what’s different about the JCI Grill and the James Coney Island, so that they’ll stop in and see that we really do have a great variety on our menu.

The other thing that we’re doing is separating our core products, the products that our loyal, long-standing customers love and they come for — and that’s the only thing they’re coming for. And in the new menu layout we actually have what we’re calling our legacy menu; it’s keeping with the red, white, and blue of James Coney Island, and now we’ll have our coneys and our chili that those people that are coming in for. Those products, they can find them easily, and that will have a completely different look and feel than the rest of the JCI Grill Menu to kind of, again, bridge that gap.

Robin: Bridge that, yeah.

Michelle: And keep them from feeling alienated, that we’ve taken everything away from them.

Robin: Okay. That sounds like a perfect way to kind of really help leverage the past and look forward.

Michelle: We’re hoping so.

Robin: All right, thank you for sharing.

Michelle: Thanks, Robin.

Robin: This has been another edition of Brandonomics, an inside look at top brands and their marketing strategies.


A Houston icon since 1923, James Coney Island has a long history of serving the best hot dogs in the city. Striving to offer service above and beyond the average quick-service dining establishments, the restaurants now offer a wide variety of food off the grill and the same great atmosphere it’s had since the Papadakis brothers founded it.

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