Editor's note: This is just one story in a recurring series that features interviews with top-level execs in the fast casual industry. If you would like us to feature a specific exec, please make your request in an email to Cherryh Butler at email@example.com.
Growth is on the agenda of Giardino Gourmet Salads. The Miami-based salad concept launched in 2004, has a new board of director and financial backer with big plans for the eight-unit chain. Julio Ramirez, former executive VP of global operations and former president of the Latin America Region for Burger King Corporation, said he plans to franchise Giardino beyond South Florida to adjacent markets in the Southeast U.S.
"Longer term, we believe that we can be the premier gourmet salad, wrap and soup concept in other regions as well," Ramirez said. "I invested in this concept because I know it stands out amongst its competitors in this market."
Ramirez gave FastCasual.com a few details about his plans for the chain and what type of franchisees he's seeking to help him grow the brand.
Q: Why do you think the chain is poised for such growth?
Ramirez: Our great-tasting salads, wraps and soups, and personalized guest service definitely differentiate us from other concepts, but behind the scenes, we have a solid, new ownership team with over 90 years of restaurant management experience in five functional areas merged with the strong values from the passionate founders, who have developed this concept throughout the years. To add to that, we have a lower cost of entry in development costs compared to other competitive concepts out there, and so far, we have yielded a solid investment-to-return ratio.
Q:How will your background with Burger King help you succeed?
Ramirez: I worked for 26 years at Burger King – 16 of them as a senior executive under five different owners. This was a tremendous training ground. Many of my bosses and peers are now running or have key roles in other successful concepts, such as the Dunkin Brands, Checkers, Boston Market, McDonald's, Carl's Jr., Firehouse Subs, and Domino's, to name a few. I learned from the best in operations, marketing, supply chain, and beyond. Most importantly, I know how to find, work with, and leverage the experience of franchise owners because that was the common thread in most of my work at Burger King Corporation, both on the domestic and international front.
Q: What will you be looking for in a franchisee?
Ramirez: My partners and I will be looking for entrepreneurial, results-oriented, passionate folks with great values and people skills. They are individuals who want to create a wonderful business that is deeply rooted in wellness and community, serve and interact with their customers and succeed to the point that they continue to grow additional units.This is also an incredible opportunity for area developers.
We are young enough now that the next few franchise owners that open up will be the veterans and all-stars of the future. We want them to create great memories with our concept that they will be proud when they look back.
Q: Why did you decide to actually invest in the concept?
Ramirez: I invested in Giardino Gourmet Salads because the ownership group shares similar values and are humble, hungry and competitive. There is a niche for our concept in the marketplace and we can see how it can evolve in the changing landscape of food in the 21st century, where health, taste and customization are coming together at a tremendous pace.
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Cherryh Butler has been a reporter for nearly 10 years, writing on a variety of topics ranging from the restaurant industry to business and health and fitness news. Before joining FastCasual.com as editor, she oversaw KioskMarketplace.com and PizzaMarketplace.com and contributed to RetailCustomerExperience.com. She's also written for several daily newspapers, magazines and websites, including The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine.