The Restaurant Business podcast Buzzworthy Brands is a must-listen show for operators of emerging brands. Host Heather Lalley, editor at RB, talks with the founders and CEOs of growth concepts, to discuss their opportunities, challenges and strategic innovations. Look for a new episode released every other Tuesday.
Chip Wade joined Union Square Hospitality Group as president just over two years ago. Nine months into his time with the Danny Meyer-led multi-concept operator, the pandemic hit. USHG shut down all of its restaurants and laid off some 2,300 employees.
Now, as Wade says, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not a train. The company’s restaurants are reopening, though a handful remain closed, and USHG is easing out of pandemic mode.
Listen to this Buzzworthy Brands conversation with Wade to hear how the New York City-based company is navigating the other side of the crisis.
GSR Brands, the parent of Cincinatti’s iconic Gold Star chili concept, acquired Tom & Chee in late 2017. At the time, Tom & Chee was a grilled cheese and soup brand with a cult following. It had been featured on Shark Tank and other TV shows. By 2019, GSR had ambitious plans for Tom & Chee. But then came the pandemic. Now, with some crucial changes, the company is getting ready to grow its melt concept. Listen to this Buzzworthy Brands interview with Roger David, president and CEO of Gold Star Brands, about what’s ahead for Tom & Chee.
Southern Classic Chicken started in Northern Louisiana 35 years ago and has since grown to 17 units. The low-tech concept has developed a loyal following with its consistent menu of bone-in fried chicken and simple sides like Cajun rice, mashed potatoes and apple pie. A couple of years ago, though, the family that started the chain decided to give franchising a try. They’d tried it about a decade ago, with unsuccessful results, so they wanted to be better prepared this go-round. They brought in a couple of experts to help. One of them, Nick Binnings, is the chain’s director of brand development. Binnings has worked for the past couple of years getting Southern Classic Chicken’s brandings, systems and operations in place to ready the brand for franchising.
How Rise Southern Biscuits and Righteous Chicken is back in growth mode and is now seeing profits increase at both company-owned and franchised stores after its founder and CEO Tom Ferguson realized the concept’s complexity was setting franchisees up for failure.
Restaurant Business Editor-at-Large Peter Romeo joins the Buzzworthy Brands podcast to discuss promising recent signs for on-premise brands, and how these concepts will be forever changed by the pandemic.
Bluestone Lane, the 50-unit coffee shop-cafe concept with Australian roots, was hit hard by the pandemic. But founder and CEO Nicholas Stone said the brand is moving from survival mode to a renewed focus on growth. New York City-based Bluestone Lane opened its first store in 2013. Until the coronavirus crisis, it had been on a fast growth clip, opening 44 stores over 42 months. Today, the chain is working on reopening stores temporarily closed during the pandemic, with plans to open 15 new locations this year and debut in new markets in 2022. Bluestone operates two different concept types – a small footprint coffeeshop and a larger cafe, geared more toward on-premise dining.
Roots Chicken Shak has two units, in Plano and Austin, Texas, right now. The restaurants themselves are tiny, but Chef Tiffany Derry and her business partner, Tom Foley, have grand plans to change the franchising landscape for entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups.
Derry and Foley are working to create a business model that is easy to step into for hard-working people who may not have the capital to get involved with a traditional restaurant franchise.
After deciding a career in law was not for him, Gregory Zamfotis started Gregorys Coffee in 2006 in Manhattan.
Growing up, his father owned a number of food and beverage businesses, which inspired the younger Zamfotis to try to carve out a niche between giants like Starbucks and boutique, neighborhood coffeeshops.
Since then, Gregorys Coffee has grown to about 30 locations around New York, New Jersey and Washington D.C. The chain roasts its own beans and makes the bulk of its food offerings at a central commissary.
Though the chains central business district locations have been hard hit by the pandemic, Zamfotis said that having had mobile payment and app-based ordering capabilities for many years was a definite boost.
Knead Hospitality & Design is a multi-concept restaurant group based in Washington, D.C. The group not only runs its restaurants, but it designs them as well.
Knead is known for partnering with well-known chefs such as Edward Lee, Roberto Santibanez and Umber Ahmad to create scaleable concepts.
Listen to the conversation with Knead Hospitality & Design’s Founder and Principal Jason Berry.
Twelve-unit fast casual Viva Chicken specializes in Peruvian style marinated chicken cooked over a charcoal-fire rotisserie. The brand started in 2013 in Charlotte N.C. and grew, thanks to funding from a group led by restaurateur Dennis Thompson. Thompson founded Firebirds WoodFired Grill, among other concepts.
Gerald Pulsinelli joined Viva Chicken in 2019, after working with Thompson for nearly two decades at Firebirds. That year, Viva made a number of tech upgrades that would serve the concept well during the pandemic.
Please listen to this Buzzworthy Brands interview with Pulsinelli to hear about those upgrades and what the growing chain has planned for the future.
R.J. Melman grew up working in his family’s restaurants, starting as a busser and moving up to a prep cook and restaurant manager. Since 2017, he has served as president of Chicago-based multi-concept group Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (LEYE), after taking over day-to-day operations from his father and company founder, Rich Melman.
Melman joins the Buzzworthy Brands podcast to talk about how his company comes up with new concepts, the difficulties of creating virtual brands and what he has learned from restaurant failures over the years.
Casual dining chain Sixty Vines started in Plano, Texas about four years ago. It now has four units in Texas and Florida, with a couple more planned for 2021. The concept focuses on wine in kegs, which are billed as being good for the environment, having a longer shelf life and always being served at the proper temperature.
The first Organic Krush opened in May 2015 and the chain now has seven units and a commissary kitchen, with a couple more leases signed and plans to open at the new health and wellness center at the University of Richmond next month. Unlike similar concepts in the segment that focus on either juice and smoothies or heartier fare, Organic Krush's lengthy menu offers a full range of drinks and meals.
How Mission Taco Joint’s co-owners Jason and Adam Tilford created a full-service burrito-and-margarita concept in the heart of Missouri while staying true to its mission and focusing on internal growth during the coronavirus crisis.
Starbird co-founder and CEO Aaron Noveshen already had more than a decade of experience as a restaurant consultant with The Culinary Edge before starting the fast-casual chicken chain.
Noveshen brought his consultant knowledge to bear at Starbird, a six-unit brand that is accelerating its growth plans even amid the pandemic. San Francisco-based Starbird entered the ghost kitchen space about a year ago and is adding a suite of virtual brands.
Buzzworthy Brands, Restaurant Business' new podcast highlighting innovative growth chains. In this first episode, Heather Lalley (@flourgrrrl) talks with @AtomicWings CEO Zak Omar about focusing on expansion even amid the pandemic.