How Moe’s Southwest Grill Unseated the Longstanding Champion and Became Brand of the Year in Fast-Casual Mexican
How Moe’s Southwest Grill Unseated the Longstanding Champion and Became Brand of the Year in Fast-Casual Mexican

For Moe’s President Bruce Schroder, culture and individuality go a long way.

Back in 2016, Moe’s Southwest Grill literally gave Chipotle a run for its money—the smaller chain unseated Chipotle as Brand of the Year in the fast-casual Mexican restaurant category. That’s a pretty big honor for a brand less than half the size of Chipotle (Moe’s clocks in at more than 650 locations, while Chipotle has well over 2,000).

Walk into any Moe’s locations in the U.S. today, and the first thing you’ll hear is the entire staff enthusiastically greeting you. Saying “hello” is part of the fast-casual Mexican chain’s appeal to creating a friendly and inviting atmosphere for families. And since making its debut in late 2000 (seven years after Chipotle) in Atlanta, Georgia, Moe’s quickly made a name for itself in a crowded category because of that unrivaled culture.

Simply put, the Moe’s experience is one that customers can feel good about—from the service to the menu. Moe’s has long distinguished itself from other fast casual restaurants with fresh and healthy ingredients. There are no microwaves, freezers, trans fats, or MSG at Moe’s. The chicken is cage-free and steroid-free, the pork is grain-fed, the steak is grass-fed and the tofu is organic. There are also over 20 different gluten-free ingredients and the grilled vegetables are prepared on a separate surface from the meat to accommodate vegetarians. Moe’s cares about the environment, too—a priority that’s evident in the food they serve and the buildings they serve it out of. In June of 2011, a Moe’s in Vermont became the first restaurant of any kind in the state to earn an LEED Silver certification. A few months later, a location in Atlanta became a 2 Star Certified Green Restaurant.

For all of these reasons and more, Moe’s is on the cusp of significant expansion. According to Bruce Schroder, the president of Moe’s, success for this brand has everything to do with promoting a culture that celebrates individuality. For starters, Moe’s is an acronym, not a person--it stands for “Musicians, Outlaws and Entertainers.” And it has everything to do with the irreverent attitude and sense of independence that fuels the brand every single day.

“At Moe’s, we want to promote an environment where customers and employees alike can be themselves. When I came on board as the president of Moe’s, I made it my goal to shepherd a culture that people genuinely wanted to be a part of,” Schroder said. “That came down to creating a sense of self-awareness about who we are as a brand and what our mission is. And that ultimately sets a great foundation for everything we do.”

Schroder joined Moe’s in 2015, after serving as president of Regus Express North America, where he commercialized a new retail concept designed to better serve mobile workers. Schroder previously served as chief operating officer and president of stores for Jamba Juice, where he led the revitalization of the domestic business and supply chain. In his most recent role at Moe’s, Schroder quickly recognized one important priority—putting the interests of the brand’s owners and employees first. So, from day one, it was crucial that every single Moe’s restaurant was filled with people who were courageous and curious. They had to be the right cultural fit for the brand. And they couldn’t be afraid to genuinely say “Welcome to Moe’s” whenever a customer walked through the door.

“At Moe’s our franchisees are very passionate about their business. They take what they do personally. As the president of Moe’s, it was about recognizing that it’s not about the corporate team. It’s about the franchisees and their restaurants. When you learn that, you don’t get sidetracked,” Schroder said. “I’m a firm believer that the employees are the most important part of a brand. That’s why, at Moe’s, we call our team members ‘roadies.’ They’re there to make the store great. And it helps to create a strong sense of belonging and a familial bond that you can only find at Moe’s.”

Today, it’s clear that people-first mentality is working. Moe’s has since gone from a regional entity to a national one. It’s built a culture that franchisees are passionate about. And Moe’s also achieved one of the largest brand equity increases over a three-year period, according to The Harris Poll, which measures brands’ health based on familiarity, quality and purchase consideration.

To continue driving Moe’s forward in the years ahead, Schroder believes success will come down to one important belief—always strive to be different, both as a leader and as a brand.

“I’m a big believer in oxymorons. They’re a great construct to building a brand. If you’re truly differentiated, you’re delivering two or more things you wouldn’t expect together,” Schroder said. “As a leader it’s key that you don’t take yourself too seriously, but also take yourself seriously. It’s about the rest of your team—not you. Don’t get too caught up in a leadership role. But on the other hand, you need to understand your impact—you have a tremendous responsibility to your entire system and giving them something to work for every day. Do your best to give them something to believe in.”