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MOOYAH Burgers, Fries & Shakes’ President Tony Darden Shares Vision For Growth, Building ‘Brand Advocacy’ To Dominate Fast Casual Landscape

Tony Darden’s vision for success includes leveraging tech, design and food innovations to become the best-in-class fast casual restaurant.

MOOYAH Burgers, Fries & Shakes’ President Tony Darden is focused on doubling the size of the franchise system in just four years while establishing it as not just the best “better burger” concept around, but the best fast casual restaurant of any type. If that sounds ambitious, that’s not the half of it.

Darden, like many business leaders in 2020, spent the better part of this year pivoting to thrive in a pandemic business environment, and he’s seen some considerable success in doing it.

“In March, before the pandemic hit, we had seven percent growth in same-store sales year over year,” said Darden. “We took a hit during the pandemic, but by August, thanks to our innovative Campfire Burger and S’mores Shake, same-store sales have been positive every week since.”

It’s clear that MOOYAH has already won over its Franchise Owners, otherwise they never would have signed on. But Darden’s hard pivots, tough calls and burden sharing with Franchise Owners forged deeper bonds across the organization.

“The real highlight of 2020 for me has been our pandemic response. We didn’t lay off or furlough anyone at the corporate level. We let our Franchise Owners know, on a deep level that we have their backs,” said Darden.

Five restaurant openings for MOOYAH this year represent a great success on their own. Six existing Franchise Owners signing on to remodel their stores in a new, COVID-friendly way, certainly validates the renewed concept that closed the kitchen, allowed for more contactless operations, and elevated the dining room. Seven new signings, most of them during the pandemic, speaks to the brand’s robust appeal. But Darden is looking beyond those numbers at something bigger: a vision.

“Our ultimate, big vision is to be best in class in the fast casual segment,” said Darden. “You get there not just by having the best food, the most restaurants or strong unit level economics, you get there from an end-to-end strategy. You need deep relationships with Franchise Owners. They need to be folks that are going to advocate for you.”

Darden and the leadership at MOOYAH have always planned to expand across the country. Opening a store in Manhattan’s Times Square and signing on a deal for 10 stores across the Dallas/Fort Worth area this year certainly advanced those goals, but Darden’s vision goes beyond simply earning cash. Darden plans to build on the community MOOYAH brought together during the COVID-19 crisis to create an army of what he calls “brand advocates.”

“Everything we do is about building brand advocacy,” said Darden. “It’s like an affinity funnel; at the top we’re putting in new Franchise Owners, new Team Members and new Managers, but it’s incumbent upon us as the franchisor to layer in initiatives, layer in education and layer in training. By the time they get to the bottom of that funnel what we have are brand advocates.”

Essentially, Darden’s vision is to grow the brand by the numbers, but also to make sure every Guest who visits, every store that opens and every Team Member that works for the company has an excellent experience they can’t help but share with others.

“We want our Guest Specialists to be brand advocates because they love the business. We have Franchise Owners that are brand advocates and now want to become multi-unit owners. We are making advocates out of our vendors,” said Darden. “This is how we become the very best fast casual restaurant, from food to service to construction, we’re forming deep relationships that set us up to be the best, and biggest in our class.”

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