Focus on Food: Q&A with Newk’s Eatery Chief Development Officer
Focus on Food: Q&A with Newk’s Eatery Chief Development Officer

The high-quality restaurant brand aims for rapid expansion leading to 2018.

Nothing sparks passion in Americans quite like really great food. From taste and texture to service and value, we’re always on the hunt for the next best thing. So, when we find a brand focused on quality, we tend to stick with it.

That’s exactly what customers have been doing at Newk’s Eatery since it was founded in 2004. Since the beginning, Newk’s founding team of Don Newcomb, Debra Bryson and Chris Newcomb have had one steadfast rule: never compromise on quality. That means nothing at Newk’s is ever pre-chopped, pre-sliced or pre-packaged.
It takes a lot longer, and can cost a lot more to make that restaurant model work. But, here’s the funny thing: customers love it. And, that’s kept them coming through the doors in droves. 1851 Franchise Magazine sat down with Chris Cheek, Newk’s Eatery’s chief development officer, to find out what the fast casual brand has done to position itself for unprecedented expansion in 2016.
1851 Franchise: You’ve seen rapid expansion at Newk’s in just a decade of operation. What’s made the brand so successful, so quickly?
Chris Cheek:Newk’s Eatery was founded in 2004 in Oxford, Mississippi by the same family that started McAlister’s Deli in 1981. They sold that brand in 1989 because they wanted to put an even bigger mark on the future of the fast casual concept. Newk’s is the result. We are more hospitality driven, more food driven, in an open kitchen concept, but still in a fast casual setting. We have unique flavor profile, where everything is made from scratch. Nothing is ever pre-cooked. You won’t ever find a microwave, heat lamp or fryer in our restaurants. But, you’ll always find staff focused on service. They bring the food to your table. They clean up your table. That business model has really resonated with our customers.”
1851: Has that customer support driven your ability to attract quality, qualified potential franchisees?
CC: “There’s no question that it has. We encourage our franchisees to go check us out on Yelp. That’s rare. We have fanatic fans that respond to the crave-able menu we’ve created, and that passion shows. We’ve had people take sandwiches on plane flights in order to get them back to a spouse. You don’t see that from every brand out there.”
1851: What can a potential franchisee expect from a partnership with Newk’s Eatery?
CC: “They can expect unparalleled corporate support. We are focused on brand awareness, and growing that fanatic fan base. But, we also believe it strong quality of life for our franchisees. We don’t do breakfast, which is a contrast to some of our competitors. We believe those morning hours are good prep time for our restaurants, and the work being done at those hours is a lot better than it would be in the middle of the night for breakfast preparations, because we refuse to compromise on our promise of making everything fresh. But, that doesn’t hold us back with potential franchisees. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Our franchisees generate the same or better revenue in two dayparts than others do in three.”
1851: Who is your ideal franchise candidate?
“Like many fast casual concepts, we are searching for existing multi-unit operators. But, above all, we want to speak with driven, entrepreneurial minded individuals. Right now, we are focused on growth in the Southeast U.S., and we want to grow in a disciplined way. We are targeting major metropolitan areas in and surrounding places like Dallas/Fort Worth, Raleigh-Durham, Charleston, Orlando, Tampa, New Orleans, Houston, and Nashville.”
1851: What are your plans for growth in 2016 and beyond?
“We currently have 85 total locations, and we’ve already added 10 new locations so far this year. But, we’re focused on even more rapid expansion ahead. We plan to have 100 locations by the end of this year and up to 240 open locations by the end of 2018. We’ve already developed our second generation prototype that includes modern elements and treatments, and an open kitchen as a focal point in the middle of the restaurant. We have one of these prototype locations under construction now in Lafayette, Louisiana and a second location scheduled to open before the end of the year in Raleigh-Durham. So, stay tuned for even more great developments in the year ahead.”