Wayback Burgers has mapped out an unconventional approach to tackling the Big Apple, one of the few big cities the global casual chain has not yet penetrated. The company will soon be serving its burgers, fries and chips on food trailers.
"We were looking for an alternative to the high rents in Manhattan," William Chemero, executive vice president, told Food Truck Operator. "This is going to replace the brick-and-mortar restaurant necessity, the high rents and the cost of doing business in New York City."
"The whole plan was to take Wayback Burgers mobile," he said. "What better place to test it than New York City? It can open the door to growth for domestic franchises across the United States."
A fortuitous encounter
The project began largely by chance when Wayback Burgers came across Move Systems, a provider and operator of food trailers, at the International Franchise Expo in New York City in 2016.
"Out of all the brands there at the show, they approached us saying that they wanted to possibly enter into a partnership," said Chemero.
Move Systems, a Long Island City, New York-based trailer manufacturer and operator, was already partnering with Nathan's Famous Inc. in operating trailers at around 20 New York City locations, and was looking for other brands to partner with.
"They got it right away," Jeffrey Hoffman, vice president of operational systems and general counsel at Move Systems, said about Wayback Burgers. "It's incredibly expensive to do brick-and-mortar here in the city."
Hoffman said Move Systems was looking to team with brands entering the "hockey stick" part of their growth curve.
"And of course we were looking for cuisine types that would resonate on the streets of Manhattan," Hoffman said.
Wayback Burgers moves forward
Wayback Burgers visited with Move Systems and liked the operation. In observing Nathan's Famous carts in action, the lines were three to five persons deep for three to four hours at a time.
"People do eat out of carts in the major metropolitan cities," Chemero said. "This could be a really good alternative to paying a high rent that one would pay with a brick-and-mortar restaurant." Wayback Burgers also views the trailer as a safe environment for serving burgers, fries and beverages.
"There's such a love affair of the American consumer for eating food from a truck or a cart that's just mind boggling," he said.
Wayback Burgers plans to have Move Systems operate the trailers in New York City. The chain's distributors will ship the food to Move Systems' commissary.
"If we were going to do a cart format from a catering perspective, these guys (Move Systems) knew what they were doing, and we felt pretty confident in their professionalism," Chemero said. "They went from one test cart in one year (for Nathan's Famous) to over 20 units."
A three-part test
Wayback Burgers will conduct a three-part test, each for a different vehicle type.
The first vehicle tested will be a 5- by 10-foot trailer manned by two employees. The trailer will have a freezer, refrigerator, a griddle, two fryers and a prep station, similar to the Nathan's trailer. The company will test the trailer for about 90 days. Move Systems is expecting 200 to 300 customers per day per trailer.
The second test will be a 12- by 6-foot trailer which will feature a larger menu. The menu might include chicken sandwiches, veggie burgers and turkey burgers in addition to hamburgers, fries and chips, Chemero said. The larger trailer could eventually be offered to the chain's 120-plus U.S. franchisees. The company has not decided when this vehicle will be tested. Move Systems will be involved in designing the larger trailer.
The third test will be a food truck, which could have an even larger menu. Chemero said the truck would likely be smaller than many traditional food trucks, but more maneuverable. Move Systems will provide input for the truck, but will not be involved in operating it.
"We're going to design a very cool, retro looking type car," Chemero said for the food truck.
Different vehicles for different uses
The trucks will be for franchisees serving large geographic areas while the trailers will be for big cities, Chemero said.
"We've got to be sure we can replicate it in other areas," Chemero said. "In franchising, it's all about multiplication."
The company will also review speed of service to the customers, cost per labor hours, maintenance requirements, profitability and consumer acceptance.
"Are they going to accept getting burgers and fries out of a cart like a hot dog?" Chemero asked.
He said the trailer could give franchisees in major cities a way to serve the downtown areas where the rent for brick-and-mortar locations usually is too high.
"We're also going to use the cart as an advertising tool," he said. The advertising will advise people that franchise opportunities are available.
Once the trailers establish the company's brand in New York City, it could consider opening a brick-and-mortar store there, Chemero said.
"It's going to be able to advertise the brand throughout New York City, but it's going to be profitable, because it's going to be an active working piece of equipment," he said.
The product pricing will vary based on local market conditions.
Food brands are learning that they need to adapt to the nuances of the different markets they serve. Fortunately, there are innovative companies waiting to partner with them to address these different needs.
Elliot Maras Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.