Mimi’s new concept blends fast food, fast casual, sit-down service

Mimi’s new prototype restaurant design aims to deliver a thorough Parisian experience – the airy gardens! The bustling cafes! The romantic corners! The wine!

The twist? Mimi’s plans to incorporate each of these elements into a single building.

In a shopping center in Santa Clarita, minutes from the Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park, hard-hatted workers are putting the finishing touches on the 34-year-old chain’s so-called “revolution.”


Instead of “Mimi’s Cafe,” the restaurant will be known as just “Mimi’s.”

The new flagship, set to open next week in the shell of an older Mimi’s, will expand beyond the chain’s full-service background to include several themed dining spaces.

Those include a bakery section, a bistro portion, a loaded bar, indoor garden seating, a room styled after a winery and the standard cafe area. It’s a plan that molds fast food, fast casual and sit-down service into a single restaurant.

“We’re creating a new business model, extending Mimi’s brand to be relevant and contemporary for today’s guests,” President and Chief Concept Officer Mark Mears exclusively told The Times. “It’s a ‘back to the future’ thing. We know of no other casual dining restaurant that has this idea.”

The most brazen change: The bakery and carryout section, which caters to customers who don’t want a full meal.

There’s a cold case with to-go options such as soups, quiches and sandwiches. A gourmet coffee bar comes with a barista and “almost everything a Starbucks would sell,” Mears said. Patrons can pick up a croissant or a macaron cookie to eat in the car or in the cafe section while working on a laptop.

“It makes the asset more productive per square foot,” Mears said. “Customers get more and different reasons to come in. It depends on what mood you’re in.”

The garden area will feature vintage-looking white brick, high ceilings, plants and a light sensibility. The bar will serve wine, beer, spirits and cocktails. Cozy “honeymoon” booths set into alcoves in the bistro space evoke a dark, romantic atmosphere, complete with flowers on the table. Diners will get wine flights in the winery room.

“We’re getting people to see us differently,” Mears said.

As it builds more stores and remodels older ones over the next three to five years, Mimi’s will adapt the prototype to fit the space. Some locations will have only a bakery, while others will have just the bistro and the cafe, for example.

The model will help Mimi’s fill in gaps in its expansion strategy while also opening the door to unconventional spaces in airports, hospitals, business parks and more. The chain was founded in Anaheim in 1978 and was bought by Bob Evans Farms Inc. in 2004.

It didn’t expand beyond California until 1995 but now has 145 restaurants in 24 states.

And it’s not just the aesthetics that are changing. To build up the French vibe, employees at the door will greet guests with a “bonjour” or “bonsoir.” The menu is being updated from a laminated diner-style booklet to a sleek paper brochure that includes build-your-own burger and omelet options and so-called petite plates.

For a chain that has had identity issues in the past, with some branches going for a New Orleans jazz feel and others touting the “all day fresh cafe” mentality, Mimi’s is now trying to solidify its reputation as a place where customers can get “a taste of France,” Mears said.

“We want to provide a safe adventure for guests,” he said.


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