The flame-grilled chicken chain El Pollo Loco is moving to upgrade its image and spice up its menu after significant losses in each of the last three years.  The 400-store chain, whose majority owner is New York private equity firm Trimaran Capital Partners, has been struggling with red ink and greater competition.  The company has hired a new advertising agency to bolster its image and an architectural firm to improve the look of its restaurants.

The chain has also dropped slow-selling items like steak tacos and tried to create buzz with a limited-time offering of fish tacos.  New side dishes meant to appeal to more upscale consumers include sweet-potato fries, sweet corn cakes, and grilled cut corn.

Despite the chain’s difficulties of the last few years, El Pollo Loco has a very good chance of turning its losses around, especially as it upgrades, said Steve West, a restaurant industry analyst, and the chain could emerge well positioned to make it as a national brand.  Although the chain’s restaurants are heavily concentrated in California, it operates restaurants in states including Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Illinois, and Georgia.  “They definitely have the ability to be a premium concept,” West said.  “I always thought it would be a successful national chain.”