Golden Corral has completed its search.
The VIA Agency is the new lead creative agency for the casual dining chain, according to sources. The independent shop in Portland, Maine, prevailed in a pitch against two other finalists: Merkley + Partners in New York and Mullen in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Golden Corral, which has more than 500 restaurants in 40 states, spent about $55 million in media last year, according to Kantar Media.
Recently, the casual dining chain has used freelancers and produced ads in house. So the hiring of a lead agency represents a shift in strategy as the brand looks to rebound from softness in sales.
Golden Corral could not immediately be reached, but sources said the contenders had been told of the decision.
VIA's previous restaurant clients include Friendly's and Romano's Macaroni Grill.
The selection comes amid a flurry of fast-casual reviews, including creative searches for Panera Bread and Buffalo Wild Wings and a media search for Bloomin' Brands, whose mainstay is Outback Steakhouse. Panera and Buffalo Wild Wings hired Anomaly and TBWA\Chiat\Day, respectively; the Bloomin' search continues but is expected to be completed soon.