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.

3 Ways to Promote a Better Culture

3 Ways to Promote a Better Culture

Restaurants have this stigma that it’s not a real job. It’s a means to an end until you finally grow up and do what it is that you want to do. But that’s what I absolutely love about the industry. You have the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life, from all stages of life and you get to meet some pretty interesting people.

I will admit that working in restaurants for over 14 years, the first eight of those years were of that mindset. This was a way to pay the bills and as soon as I could, I’d leave for my grown-up job. Interestingly enough, I joined a company that was a small mom-and-pop restaurant and because of their culture and the way that they treated their teams, I ended up falling back in love with the industry. I knew that it was the industry I wanted to be a part of indefinitely.

When you think about culture, it’s hard to pinpoint what that even means. It’s this term that is being thrown around by leaders in various industries. The best way to describe culture is that it’s basically the personality of the company. It encompasses the values, the goals, the mission, the work environment, the way we communicate with staff and each other, etc.

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What Your Restaurant Can Do To Generate Revenue During Thanksgiving

What Your Restaurant Can Do To Generate Revenue During Thanksgiving

Each individual has their own personal explanation of what Thanksgiving means to them. The general, modern celebration of Thanksgiving however, is characterized as an opportunity to enjoy quality time with friends, family, food, the occasional beverage, large parades, and yes, often the game of football.  

It’s also a time to reflect, set aside political and corporate related agendas and turn a blind eye to the negative news surrounding us from around the world. Smiles, laughter, and memorable experiences are often shared over the course of the long weekend.

With so much focus around food, drink, and togetherness; what does all of this mean for restaurants on Thanksgiving?

Well, restaurants aim for a similar experience each and every day— offering food, beverage, smiles, laughter, and memorable moments with friends, co-workers, family, and loved ones.

Depending on the restaurant concept and its location, there likely lies a large opportunity to generate awareness, increase revenue, develop repeat customers, or hopefully, a combination of the three.

Here are six elements to consider for your restaurant around Thanksgiving:

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Getting Past the Labor Crunch Affecting the Restaurant Industry

Forget why it happened - or continues to happen - but there is a very real shortage of kitchen labor.

You can have a shimmering five-star Yelp rating, a filled dining room, and the best craft beer list around, but without staff to make food and make drinks, you are nowhere.

Throwing your hands up in meaningless desperation because ‘there aren’t people out there!’ is less than productive. Instead, get real about plugging employment holes.

Money Is an Option, but Not the Only Answer

Engaging younger employees, for instance, is a strategically smart move. Ask what they want and listen to their answers.

Some common requests, most often heard when talking with Millennial staffers, are:

  • Flexibility in scheduling - wanna bet your clutch salad guy won’t quit because he is scheduled during tomorrow’s DJ Khaled show? Be flexible or be rigid. One will break you.
  • Working with friends - dangerous footing, yes. But, especially significant to the highly social, younger employment pool, find some middle ground.
  • Let me use my phone - set guidelines, but don’t rip their phones from their hands. How do you feel about being out of touch?
  • Feed me - staff meal, for sure. Make it something that can be photo-worthy so they can talk about it online.
  • Keep me connected with something big - whether it is local charity support, a tie-in with a community group or a national campaign, social activism has spilled across many demographics. We all want to feel like we are identified with something bigger than ourselves, this can be a win on many levels.

Transportation Matters

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If your restaurant is in a metro setting, parking might be an issue.

Cooks’ and servers’ wages can succumb to costly transportation costs. Work a barter deal with a garage owner to secure spaces for your crew to park.

Encourage biking by having adequate bike racks and even give away locks.

Merch

Part of identifying with a purpose or mission, treat staff like a team not by just saying that you have a team. Branded shirts, hoodies, or jackets go further than you think.

For your modest investment, the team gets to reap the benefit of getting gear that represents their place of employment and you get walking advertisements. It’s a pride thing.

Using Social Media for More Than Driving Sales

Give your crew reasons to share the virtues of their great job.

Taking Phone Pictures of Food

Create Instagrammable moments with community-based events, mission-based experiences, and, just a lot of fun times.

Digital natives broadcast their days. Give them fodder to share with friends; friends that could need - or want - a job with you.

Feed them a great staff meal and let them share pics.

Spending Money on Staff Doesn't Have to Be Just Payroll

Adam Marcus, owner and operator of two Chick-fil-A locations in northern Delaware has a problem we all wish to have— the restaurants are too busy! This energized operator got serious about doing what bosses are supposed to: providing employees the resources they need to be even better at their jobs.

lemon squeezer machine

Marcus went extreme and closed a very busy Bear, Del. location for an extensive remodel and retool, to ensure a better experience for customers, but equally important improvements for the employees.

“We’re investing in some pretty cool equipment [like] commercial dishwashers, lettuce spinners. [We] just bought a machine that juices lemons rather than hand squeeze for lemonade. We are compartmentalizing our kitchen so that everyone has specific tasks rather than overwhelming the staff,” said Marcus who believes that a direct spend on the staff works just as well to hold onto the crew. “For kitchen leadership we've increased hourly pay and have thrown in performance based incentives, offered health insurance, increased vacation pay,” said Marcus.

Shane Timmons, a Montana line cook at Bullwinkle's Saloon & Eatery, seconds Marcus’ approach. “Reward your employees. Make them feel appreciated. Give them what you can afford to when you can. But most of all, let them work towards something," said Timmons. "Let them prove themselves and work towards a possible promotion or more hours if they are good employees.”

When in Doubt, Poach

Some of the better cooks are working across the street. Cliche, but true: Desperate times call for desperate measures. Find a shortcoming with a competing operator’s employment, path and/or exploit.

Seriously.

If a really good sous chef is unhappy at vegetarian place up the street, what can you do to make her happier? Is it creative input for the new menu? Perhaps a little better schedule?

The obvious caveat is that poaching can be a bit nefarious and can backfire. That neighboring owner might show up at the next local business owners’ meeting and sit next to you. Just be careful. A little competition is good when it’s done right. Just remember: what you do to another can be done unto you.

restaurant recruitment

If you haven’t noticed the shortage, good for you. Like most ripples, the splash will hit your operation soon enough. Be prepared by being proactive. Insulate the staff you have with good vibes, more than adequate tools - and meaningful pay - to keep them connected to your spot.

No more skipping the overtime pay or inflexible scheduling. Will a free t-shirt mend the rip in labor mesh? No. Are there steps you can take right now? For sure. There is not a singular approach to loosen the crunch.

Listening to current staff is a start, while being open-minded does more than ignoring the seriousness of where our industry stands right now.

By Jim Berman, Industry Expert