For one thing, catching up in unit count to segment giant Five Guys Burgers and Fries, which finished its 2013 fiscal year with more than 1,100 locations, would require MOOYAH to dilute the quality of its real estate holdings or its roster of franchisees, which would be a complete nonstarter, said director of development Ardag Tachian.
“We’re not looking to aggressively develop and open restaurants just to hit numbers,” Tachian said. “It’s important for us to have the right franchise partner in the right real estate location to open a MOOYAH.”
Nonetheless, the fast-casual brand’s planned expansion for the United States and abroad next year will be robust as well as sustainable. The chain of 70 locations, 65 of which are franchised, expects to finish 2014 with at least 80 restaurants, Tachian said, and will exceed 100 units next year. MOOYAH’s most recent opening made Utah the 16th state where it operates, in addition to Canada, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Dubai.
Co-founder and chief executive Rich Hicks said the explosive growth of the better-burger segment has made the field more crowded than ever. But MOOYAH’s fundamental positioning as the family-friendly, high-quality choice in the segment is still its greatest competitive advantage, Hicks said.
“The segment is far more competitive today than it was when we first opened in 2007,” he said. “We could get bogged down in that. But what hasn’t changed is customers’ expectation for quality food at an affordable price with friendly service in a clean environment.”
Hicks keeps the MOOYAH team focused on owning the family demographic in suburban markets, especially at the dinner and weekend dayparts, rather than going punch for punch with more lunch-focused competitors like Five Guys or Smashburger in more urban environments.
“Once you understand your consumer, you go narrow and deep,” Hicks said. “It’s that family component in the suburbs that’s our top priority. It doesn’t mean we can’t meet for lunch at MOOYAH, but the majority of our business is going to be on Friday night, and Saturday and Sunday.”
Chief operating officer Michael Mabry noted that MOOYAH strives to keep its menu simple in order to allow for customization without sacrificing throughput. But the chain has diversified beyond its namesake burgers, fries and shakes by adding new options that can be seamlessly integrated into kitchen operations, making product innovation easy for franchisees to execute, he said.
“We’ve added turkey burgers and veggie burgers with the same cooking process, to widen the breadth of the menu but with no extra step,” Mabry said. “It’s great to offer a wheat bun or lettuce ‘bun,’ but guests build their burgers the same way. Sweet-potato fries appeal to more health-conscious families, but the frying process is the same. Our shake program offers a wide range of mix-ins, but it’s still the same process to make whatever shake you choose.”
Even MOOYAH’s salads, an entire new platform on the menu, are made on the same make line as the sandwiches with the same customization, he added. The menu expansion has bolstered MOOYAH’s bottom line because the restaurant’s crew members can efficiently make each new item, while “the family of four now has no veto vote,” owing to the menu’s greater variety, Mabry said.
The improved profitability on a growing average unit volume has helped MOOYAH gain the interest of new franchisees from both within foodservice and outside the restaurant industry, Mabry said.
The brand itself is integrating into a newly formed parent company, Reach Restaurant Group, that will also house two other concepts Hicks has created, Ojos Locos Sports Cantina and Pie Tap Pizza Workshop + Bar. The new company is rapidly staffing up in crucial growth departments ready to support MOOYAH, Mabry added.
“Every year that goes by, the brand becomes smarter because of the partners we bring on,” he said. “We have better teams for real estate, design, technology, systems and operations. We’ve been very pleased with the direction AUVs have gone and continue to go.”