When Preet Saini, an entrepreneur in Arizona, came across an article about McAlister’s Deli’s plans for expansion in his state, he was intrigued. Saini had not yet visited a McAlister’s restaurant as a customer—the brand had only just introduced its first two restaurants in the state, both miles away from his home town of Tempe—but he was looking for something with a strong corporate backing, something he thought he could help grow, and he had a good feeling about McAlister’s.
Saini, who had recently found success investing in a salon franchise, was hoping to parlay his initial success in franchising to the QSR segment, where his business partners were thriving.
“I was working with my business partners to find a new franchise concept we could take on together,” Saini said. “My partners were already involved with the QSR segment, and that was something I didn’t have any experience in, so I was intrigued.”
Saini says that while vetting potential franchise concepts, he and his partners were most interested in finding a business with a strong corporate support system in place, and something that they could expand.
“We knew the value of franchising, and we knew that the value lies primarily in the support you get from the corporate team,” Saini said. “That’s what allows you to get a business up and running successfully, so we were adamant about finding a concept that had strong support. Because we’re all on the West Coast, we were also looking for something that had a lot of room to grow in our part of the country.”
When Saini saw that McAlister’s was preparing to make a development push in Arizona, he and his partners looked into the brand and decided to reach out to McAlister’s development team, who invited Saini and his partners to a discovery day, where they became convinced that McAlister’s was just what they were looking for.
“First of all, we got to try the food, which was incredible,” Saini said. “That was our first big hint that the brand was going to do well out here. But we also got the chance to ask a lot of questions and really dig into the business model, and that’s where we found what we were looking for. They’ve got a rock-solid corporate backing, and they have the ability to innovate and experiment as they grow. You see a lot of brands that can’t innovate or are unwilling to, and those are the brands that get boxed out when someone else comes along who is willing to innovate.”
Saini was also attracted to McAlister’s operational model, which he saw as more manageable than other franchise models he’d investigated.
“McAlister’s has built a model that allows them to offer more choices than most other QSR brands while at the same time having far less complexity operationally,” Saini said. “There are no fryers, no alcohol, and the hours are reasonable. It’s much easier to run and far less expensive than one of these 24-hour spots that serve food and alcohol all night long.”
After the discovery day, Saini and his business partners signed a multi-unit contract with McAlister’s to open five restaurants in Arizona. Four months ago, the first of those five restaurants opened just outside the Arizona State University campus in Tempe. Saini says he picked the location to increase visibility, which he sees as paramount to the success of his restaurant.
“We visited the two other McAlister’s locations in Arizona, and they were well-run and doing good business, but we thought we could do better if we had a perfect location where we could maximize our exposure.”
Saini says that being near a college campus has given him an opportunity to introduce McAlister’s to a large customer base quickly, something that franchise brands strive for when entering any new market.
“McAlister’s doesn’t have the same brand awareness in Arizona that it has in its established markets, but being near a school has given us a lot of great exposure right off the bat, so we’ve been able to really increase awareness in Tempe, and I think that’s going to quickly expand throughout the state. We’re partnering with sports teams and trying to get involved with campus life as much as possible, and we’re catching on fast. Some students and families come from other states where McAlister’s is more well known, and they are excited to find us, others have never heard of the brand but are intrigued and quickly become fans.”
Saini says that his early experience with McAlister’s has so far played out largely as he anticipated, the food appealing to a new customer base and the operational model allowing him to quickly get the business up and running despite his lack of experience in the foodservice industry. But there was one surprise: the role of catering, which Saini says has been an unexpected and lucrative revenue stream.
“We are getting a lot of catering orders even though we haven’t done much advertising for it,” Saini said. “There’s a growing demand for catering, and McAlister’s offers really exciting catering packages. It’s been a huge part of our business, and it lets us open our doors in the morning already ahead of the game for the day because we’ve got orders coming in and a positive cash flow before the first customer walks in the store.”
Saini and his partners are already preparing to open their second store, and again they are seeking a high-exposure area to help increase brand awareness throughout the state.
“We don’t have a date for the new store yet,” Saini said. “We are more concerned with finding the right location. Once we find that, we’ll pull the trigger. We’re going to look for a good suburban area. Our first restaurant is in a very urban area, which is great, but this concept has appeal for everyone, so we want to make sure we’re reaching customers in every corner of our market."