Friendly's plans switch to trans fat-free oil
Friendly Ice Cream Corp., once an iconic New England venue for family restaurant meals heavy on burgers and sundaes, could become the latest restaurant chain to switch over to using trans fat-free oil.
Trans fat has been linked to heart disease in humans and to diabetes in experiments with animals.
Although Friendly's said it has been working on the initiative for over a year, the chain came under fire yesterday from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, or CSPI, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group that crusades on behalf of such issues as nutrition.
According to CSPI, "a 5.5-ounce serving of French fries from Friendly's has a decidedly unfriendly two grams of trans fat - an entire day's worth."
In chiding Friendly's, CSPI noted that such chains as McDonald's Corp., Legal Sea Foods, and Uno Chicago Grill have started using healthful oils for deep-frying, even as cities such as New York and Philadelphia have required restaurants to stop serving foods with significant amounts of artificial trans fats.
Just yesterday, Boston's health board gave final approval to a ban on trans fat in dishes made in restaurants and grocery stores, joining other communities including Brookline that restrict the substance.
In a statement, Friendly's said: "Friendly's realizes this is an important initiative and has been working on the elimination of trans fat for the past year. We are currently using trans fat-free oil in 55 restaurants and by July will have all our food products trans fat-free. We will complete implementing the change to the new trans fat-free oil in the remainder of our restaurants by this fall."
During a phone conversation this morning, Jeff Cronin, spokesman for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said, "If Friendly's is committed to making its French fries and other foods with trans fat-free oil, that's welcome news."
Friendly was founded in 1934 by two brothers, Curtis and Prestley Blake (left), and it seemed a perfect place for family dining for much of the 1950s and 1960s when folks didn't fret about childhood obesity; indeed, during that era, a Friendly's was often a main stay of Main Street in many a New England community and suburb.
But times - and diets - have changed, with the suburban restaurant scene moving from Main Street to the mall.
As a result, Friendly's began to struggle with competition from national chains such as Chili's Grill & Bar, which might find greater favor with a dad who sees a Chili's El Nino Margarita as a far grander thing than a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Sundae from Friendly's.
Last year, Friendly's agreed to be sold for $337.2 million to a division of Sun Capital Partners Inc., a Florida private equity firm with a good track record for turning around beleaguered restaurant brands, including Bruegger's Bagels.
That sales agreement headed off a proxy battle over the company and ended a bitter lawsuit filed by company cofounder Prestley Blake that accused Friendly's chairman of mismanagement.
(By Chris Reidy, Globe staff)