Mover-shakers from Slim Chickens, Jersey Mike’s and Cheba Hut tapped their creative visions to major effect, sparking changes from LTOs to strategic partnerships to national brand awareness.
For many, the idea of innovation might seem to run contrary to the entire concept of franchising. After all, one of the primary draws of the franchise system are its proven, replicable model and the consumer value proposition embodied in a standardized offering. That said, all businesses rise to success because one or more founders had enough confidence in their vision to try something different, and the same can and should be said of franchisees whose creativity is improving their respective franchise systems.
Five such innovators are Alex Gurrusquieta, Assistant General Manager of Slim Chickens’ Troup Highway location in Tyler, Texas; husband-and-wife franchisees and multi-unit owners Lisa and Raul Ceide of Jersey Mike’s in Orlando, Florida; and co-owners Justin Beatty and Josh Burdick of Cheba Hut in Atlanta.
Gurrusquieta started as an hourly manager at the Slim Chickens off Troup Highway back in September 2016. A natural experimenter, Gurrusquieta joined his fellow employees in the Slim Chickens kitchen after hours to experiment with flavorful combinations. One of his saucy concoctions was so good that, when his Slim’s teammates tried it, they all encouraged Gurrusquieta to enter the franchise system’s “What Do You Make in the Kitchen?” Contest.
Gurrusquieta was announced the winner, meaning that his flaming hot sauce would be rolled out system-wide as a sinfully delicious Limited-Time Offering.
Gurrusquieta’s creation? Devil’s Smoke Sauce, a made-from-scratch game-changer with a smoky BBQ base. As Slim Chicken’s describes it, after the base, chefs “add in a dash of honey and a kick of crushed habaneros for a hint of heat straight from Hades.” Slim Chickens is offering “the extra-spicy limited-time sauce through Devil’s Smoke Wings, a Shaken sandwich and a premium Devil’s Smoke dipping sauce from April 29 to June 30,” according to a recent article in QSR Magazine.
Lisa and Raul Ceide are two other status quo disruptors in the franchising space. The duo operate 11 Jersey Mike’s Subs in and around the Orlando metropolitan area, with three more currently in development. Back in 2017, the two identified the potential for third-party delivery to grow their business, signing on with the then-novel Uber Eats in Orlando. According to their write-up on Franchising.com—wherein they recently took home the Innovator Award in the ‘Best of the Best Franchisees’ category—the Ceides choice to partner with Uber Eats translated to more than $3,000 a week in delivery sales their first year. Convinced by the Ceides’ success, “last October, Jersey Mike's went live with an official partnership for the entire system,” according to Franchising.com.
As of June 3, the Ceides opened their 11th store in Ocoee, Florida, taking the initiative to partner with the Ocoee Police Department on its Holiday Toys for Kids in Need campaign by offering one regular free sub for every minimum donation of $1 to the toy drive.
Cheba Hut franchisees and co-owners Josh Burdick and Justin Beatty are yet another impressive example of innovation at work. When Burdick approached his friend Beatty about the prospect of signing on with sandwich franchise Cheba Hut for an Atlanta location, he presented Beatty with the numbers and said, “talk me out of this.” After reviewing the investment level and Cheba Hut’s performance, however, Beatty came back to his friend and said, “Josh, I don’t think I can.” The two signed a three-unit deal that will introduce Cheba Hut to the Atlanta, Georgia market, officially making the formerly West Coast concept into a national franchise.
Burdick comes from a music and entertainment-meets-law background, and Beatty has worked in the hospitality industry, most recently in bartending. The two plan to leverage their respective connections to Atlanta’s music and brewery scenes to turn their three planned Cheba Hut locations into go-to spots that not only bring guests in for the comfort food, but keep them lounging in a comfortable-cool atmosphere when their first location opens in the fall of 2019.
“I’m the beverage guy and I want to run a crazy bar program with local beers,” said Beatty of the duo’s vision in a recent article on 1851 Franchise. “I have a lot of connection to local breweries, so I’m going to drive that hard, but also keep an eye on innovation, like on-tap wine and on the food side too. I just want creative options.”
The buzz accompanying the pair’s opening has Cheba Hut zeroed in on Atlanta, plus Athens, Little Rock and Fayetteville for targeted franchise development, among other SEC conference cities.
For all five of these franchise professionals, forward thinking is just in their DNA. Now, thanks to their willingness to innovate ahead of the curve, these creative business owners are driving system-wide change for their respective brands.