| by Cherryh Cansler
Why Smiling Moose is betting on full-service concept

Smiling Moose has opened a casual dining concept.

The growth and popularity of fast casual concepts over the past few years has not only inspired a variety of casual dining brands to roll out their ownfast casualconcepts but has also forced QSRs to upgrade their menus and atmosphere to stay competitive. One fast casual brand, however, is taking the opposite approach.

Smiling Moose Rocky Mountain Deli — based in Colorado with 16 fast casual units in seven states — unveiled a prototype last month in Denver for a casual dining version of the brand called Smiling Moose Sandwich Grill & Bar. The 3,500-square foot location is much larger than the average 1,800-square-foot delis and features a brunch program, table service and a full bar serving local drafts and unique hand-crafted cocktails, including the Bourbon Milk Punch, Blackberry Coin and Stave-Smoked Old Fashioned. An outdoor patio, seating 20, will open there in a few months, Shay Baumhauer, the chain's marketing director, said in an interview with FastCasual.

A full bar serves local drafts and hand-crafted cocktails, including Bourbon Milk Punch, Blackberry Coin  and a Stave-Smoked Old Fashioned

"In the ever-changing and increasingly competitive restaurant world, we hope to evolve and stay on top of trends as the consumer base demands," she said. "When the opportunity to open this location presented itself, both Rich Eisenberg, president and CEO, and John Brown, vice president of business development, jumped on the opportunity to expand on what the Moose could be. 

"Overall, the feedback from our guests has been phenomenal and we are actively looking for a second site to open up this concept."

Although customers may still order their meals at the register to-go, the concept is predominantly table service. 

"We will also be implementing a 'Grab-and-Go' menu in the near future to cater to both the college students and business professionals in the area looking to grab a quick bite to eat during their busy mornings," Baumhauer said.

One of the keys to the brand's growth is its focus on evolving and being on the front end of trends, Eisenberg said. "The greater Denver area has been great for us since we opened here in 2007, and we chose the University of Denver area to test some exciting new programs we've been working on because we want to meet the changing needs of the dynamic, diverse and growing community." 

The menu
The Smiling Moose research and development team created an expanded menu for the concept, which takes an elevated approach to traditional Moose dishes and introduces new, innovative offerings, Baumhauer said. The brunch menu, for example, offers unique spins on classics, including Funnel Cake French Toast, an Italian Benedict complete with a balsamic demi glaze, pancakes cooked-to-order in a cast iron skillet and sweet potato fries with a maple marshmallow fluff dipping sauce. Mimosas and Bloody Mary cocktails are also available.

The new Moose will also function as a test kitchen for the other Smiling Moose locations and will feature new, innovative items crafted by the research and development team, Baumhauer said.

The look
The interior of the new concept is bright and comfortable with a unique blend of both rustic and industrial elements, Baumhauer said. It builds upon Smiling Moose's rustic modern design prototype with the addition of warm blues and gray tones, marble countertops, a colorful mural and a marble high-top community tables. It also has several charging stations with USB ports and contains a 120-inch TV wall and various other TVs. 
The growth plan
Smiling Moose has aggressive growth plans for both the original Rocky Mountain Deli concept as well as the new grill and bar.

"We are hoping to grow both brands equally depending on what our franchisees are looking for or what the retail space demands," Baumhauer said. "At this time, we do not have any plans to change the existing Rocky Mountain Delis to this new format.

Topics: Franchising & Growth, Operations Management, Restaurant Design / Layout

Cherryh Cansler

Before joining Networld Media Group as director of Editorial, where she oversees Networld Media Group's nine B2B publications, Cherryh Cansler served as Content Specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City. Throughout her 17-year career as a journalist, she's written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness. Her byline has appeared in a number of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for FastCasual.com.

wwwView Cherryh Cansler's profile on LinkedIn

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