Cowboy Chicken Goes Back to the Basics

Creating and sustaining a successful fast casual restaurant is becoming more and more of a challenge for business operators today. The market is oversaturated, and differentiating your restaurant from similar concepts can be complicated and time-consuming.

Cowboy Chicken seems to have unearthed the right recipe. The chain specializes in all-natural, wood-fired rotisserie chicken—unlike most chains, which offer fried chicken—paired with a wide variety of homestyle sides.

Founded in 1981, the premium fast casual restaurant initially struggled to find its footing. However, soon after Cowboy Chicken CEO Sean Kennedy joined the business in 2002, the company began to thrive: when Kennedy was hired, the company had dwindled to only one location. Today, the company boasts 26 total units nationwide.

“We’ve really focused on consistent execution of the basics: delicious food, genuine hospitality, and clean restaurants,” says Kennedy. “Our goal is to serve the best chicken on the planet to every guest.”

Customer needs are also changing. “Consumers continue to be attracted to something that’s different and exciting,” notes Kennedy. “The consumer is shifting to a higher expectation of delivered items and the convenience within.”

And cultivating an enjoyable work culture behind the counter is essential to ensuring that those needs are consistently met. “It takes a team to truly make a brand successful,” adds Kennedy. “Having the right team is critical to growth… you have to create a culture where people want to come to work for you and they feel value.”

For Kennedy, that means filling the team with a combination of workers who know the brand and its history, as well as experienced outsiders who approach the work without any predetermined bias and boundaries.

Check out the podcast above to hear more about how Cowboy Chicken is confronting the current challenges in the industry head-on, and what lies ahead for the fast casual chain.

Produced by:

Darisha Beresford

Olivia Aleguas

Producer

Bombay Wraps Brings Fast Casual to Indian Cuisine

In the restaurant industry, Indian cuisine continues to be a largely overlooked and underutilized market. A number of emerging brands are hoping to change that.

Ali Dewjee is the founder of popular Chicago fast casual chain Bombay Wraps. Bombay Wraps prioritizes fresh, delicious ingredients—including chicken tikka, cheese paneer, pickled onions and cilantro mint chutney paired with veggies and yogurt—slow-cooked each morning. Wraps are prepared and served Chipotle-style.

Upon moving to Chicago, Dewjee and his wife quickly discovered that the food experience they grew up with was not readily available in the city. With Bombay Wraps, they hoped to “break the misconception that Indian food or ethnic food has to be a hole in the wall.” He and his wife wanted to craft a place that offered authentic ingredients and flavor combinations in an environment that was modern, clean, and accessible to people of any background.

“My job is really to grow the category,” says Dewjee. “I’m always looking across the board collaborating with my fellow Indian restaurateurs. I don’t really look at them as competitors but as collaborators for how to expand the category.”

Since its establishment in 2010, Bombay Wraps has expanded to three locations, a “revamped” food truck, and about ten pop-ups each month. The company has its own delivery app in addition to partnerships with a number of delivery companies.

For Dewjee, the best way to create a sustainable, long-lasting brand is to “respect your team.” Culture is essential. “Help your team engage and grow,” adds Dewjee, “because that’s where the battle is won or lost.”

Listen to the episode above to learn more about the future of Bombay Wraps and the importance of tracking sales and consumer adoption, and check out the Emerging Brands podcast to learn about other rising brands and innovators in the restaurant industry. You can also download the Top 150 Emerging Brands Guide to check out the full list of emerging brands from Foodable Labs.

Produced by:

Darisha Beresford

Olivia Aleguas

Producer

How Souvla is Revitalizing Fast-Fine Dining

Earning the unofficial rank of an “emerging brand” is not an easy task in today’s oversaturated industry. A unique idea, excellent service, and an appealing menu is not always enough to secure a restaurant’s survival.

Charles Bililies, the CEO and founder of Souvla, shares his vision for the fast-fine dining restaurant on this episode of Emerging Brands. Based in San Francisco with four current locations, Souvla—a reference to the Greek word meaning “spit” or “skewer”—offers a modern version of traditional Greek gyro and souvlaki sandwiches with rotisserie roasted and naturally-raised meats, and features the only all-Greek beverage menu available in any United States restaurant. Frozen Greek yogurt is served for dessert.

“Souvla was conceived first and foremost as a brand,” says Bililies. In everything they do, “[we] really want to make sure it stays true to the soul of Souvla.”

While customers order meals at the front counter, they still enjoy typical fine-dining benefits like a server who brings food to your candle-lit table, fine wine, and bussing service. And they also enjoy a relatively cheap, reasonable bill at the conclusion of their meal.

Souvla operates under the motto “make it nice and be nice,” and the maxim is displayed on the walls of the restaurant’s kitchens and offices. For Bililies, the goal is to avoid the toxic culture of perfection that has become rampant in many modern restaurants while still consistently meeting and exceeding the highest standards of quality.

“Even though the physical menu doesn’t change, we’re constantly evolving and refining who we are and what we do and how we do it,” adds Bililies. Souvla is always striving to “find other unique ways to engage with our guests and our followers.”

Listen to the episode above to hear more from Bililies on the Souvla experience and what lies ahead for the company, and check out the Emerging Brands podcast to learn about other rising brands and innovators in the restaurant industry. You can also download the Top 150 Emerging Brands Guide to check out the full list of emerging brands from Foodable Labs.

Produced by:

Darisha Beresford

Olivia Aleguas

Producer

Third Party Delivery Life or Death for the Restaurant Operator

The conversation surrounding food delivery continues to be a major concern for today’s restaurant operators as they wade through a number of new technologies providing third-party delivery solutions.

GrubHub is up by over 38 percent in sales. The online delivery marketplace has also acquired Tapingo, Eat24, and LevelUp, and recently partnered with Dunkin’. However, not far behind, DoorDash just overtook GrubHub in U.S. monthly food delivery sales. The ever-popular Uber maintains a steady 91 million monthly active users in over 20 countries and provides food delivery for 50 percent of the U.S. population.

Nevertheless, our research here at Foodable Labs shows that there are some beginning signs of fatigue in both the operator and the consumer in terms of sentiment toward third-party delivery. An analysis of over one million conversations about third-party delivery reveals a few key areas that consistently problematize the companies’ claims to convenience.

Top 10 Third-Party By Sentiment Rating

Source: Foodable Labs

The Fees hit both the operator and the consumer. Operators typically pay third-party companies 20 to 30 percent of the base cost of the ordered food. Depending on the delivery service, consumers may pay a yearly fee or pay fees for delivery from certain restaurants. In just this past quarter, there has been a sentiment drop of 3.6 points on the consumer side across the top ten delivery services. On the operator side, the drop is even direr: sentiment fell by 5.8 points.

The Data represents a constant battle between the operator and the delivery service: who owns a guest’s information, order habits, items, and frequency of purchase? The restaurants believe the guests’ data belongs to them because the customer is their guest eating their food, whereas delivery services want to leverage the data to the max with deals, app notifications, and constant marketing.

The Brand is a key area that hits home for every restaurant business. Because the restaurant loses control of the delivery, brand continuity often comes into question. Food safety and new packaging is a constant concern for restaurants to ensure they maintain each customer’s business and overall enjoyment of the restaurant.

The Jimmy John’s sandwich chain, one of the first restaurants to embrace delivery services, has refused since its beginnings to deal with third-party companies due to these issues. “We’ve been researching … what is best for our customers and our brand,” says Jimmy John’s Chief Marketing Officer John Shea. “In our exploration, we came to the conclusion that we do it better.”

The question still remains whether food delivery companies like GrubHub and UberEats can come up with a program to solve these issues. My take is that the industry is incredibly complex: businesses range from independent to franchises to emerging chains to Titans of QSR, and each business has different needs and complaints regarding the current model of third-party food delivery.

Some members of the industry are seeking the bottom line of profit, while others are looking for top-line sales and incremental lift. The brand also comes into play, and profit is always a factor. The guest connection could also change the entire landscape of food delivery over the course of the next few years.

A few brands are taking matters into their own hands. Third party delivery can deeply cut profits, so fast-casual restaurants like Modern Market and Panera Bread are investing in their own ordering and delivery platforms. This move is risky, as it could limit the company’s competitive potential. But the choice ensures that the restaurant can maintain brand continuity and better address customer concerns regarding the food delivery process.

Third party delivery providers have a fiduciary responsibility to grow the business and create stockholder value. And history shows that pushback from the community can be a deterrence to the growth of these companies. The real difference here is that the dynamics of the restaurant industry does not fare well for third-party deliverers. The real future for the third-party delivery companies lies in the development of their own foodservice brands —whether they are cloud and virtual kitchens, or full on commissary systems that can meet massive demand. In my video report from last November, I break down the idea of how third-party restaurant brand development is the real gold rush for likes of Uber and GrubHub.

How Hot Chicken Takeover is Reinventing the Fast Casual Experience

“Our mission is clear now — simply put, we want to keep creating extraordinary experiences for extraordinary people,” says Joe DeLoss.

On this episode of Emerging Brands, Joe DeLoss—the founder of fast casual restaurant chain Hot Chicken Takeover—discusses bringing Nashville-style fried chicken to Columbus, Ohio. Inspired by Nashville restaurant favorites Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack and Monell’s, Joe DeLoss decided to create his own hot chicken restaurant chain.

Monell’s had family-style southern meals every day of the week,” says DeLoss. “You would join a table with ten other people, and I fell in love with the communal experience. Most guests walking into a fast casual restaurant don’t remember being called out or greeted—our question was, how do we build the infrastructure of our restaurant around recreating that communal experience for our guests and employees?”

Over the last decade, Joe DeLoss has worked in a number of industries in an effort to create employment opportunities for people experiencing or who have experienced incarceration, homelessness, and other hardships. Founded in 2014, Hot Chicken Takeover has become a breakout brand in the Midwest. The chain boasts an excellent employee retention rate and an ever-growing customer base.

In this podcast, DeLoss details his retention and employee development goals as well as the core values of the fast casual chain.

The Hot Chicken Takeover team endeavors to operate from a place of “bold humility” in everything they do. “We listen to everything we hear and take it very seriously. Our goal is to acknowledge and address trends that our customers are experiencing before they become large problems,” explains DeLoss. “We know that we can always improve, and we’re unwilling to get in the way of progress. We measure an employee’s performance against that.”

Listen to the above podcast to learn more about the future of Hot Chicken Takeover, and check out our Emerging Brands podcast to hear from other rising leaders in the restaurant industry. You can also download the Top 150 Emerging Brands Guide to check out the full list of emerging brands from Foodable Labs.

This post is brought to you by Tyson Foods. To learn more, visit The Modern Chef Network.