Meatheads CEO: 'Never say never'
By Tom Jednorowicz,CEOand founder, Meatheads
In my decade running Meatheads, a Chicago-based family fast casual restaurant, I've learned to "Never say never."
When I opened my first Meatheads restaurant in 2007, in Bloomington/Normal, Illinois, the idea of franchising was far from my mind. My business partner and I methodically grew our restaurant brand, ensuring we built a community connection in each market. We are now operating 17 restaurant locations in the Chicagoland and northwest Indiana areas with around 350 employees.
But loyal customers and community programs aren't enough to maintain growth in the current economy.
The restaurant business — and small business industry in general — has changed dramatically over the past 10 years. From new laws to changes in consumer eating habits, we've witnessed it all.
I've outlined some thoughts below about why we knew it was the right timing for us to franchise, what we're looking for in our partners, how we'll plan our growth and still maintain our brand image and experience.
With 17 restaurants broadly distributed across the Chicagoland area, we feel it is time for Meatheads to expand beyond this market. Crain's Chicago Business reporting summed up why we're experiencing a decline in the overall burger industry in Chicago. We have more competition from delivery services, we're operating with smaller margins, navigating changing laws on employment (minimum wage), health care, etc., so we've reached a point where we're ready for some additional team members.
Keeping the local feel
Because so much of our success revolves around our ability to engage local markets through our marketing programs and community participation, it is extremely important that we have local ties to the communities in which we operate.
We are from Chicago. It would be unrealistic to think we can enter a new market and maintain the level of intimacy we expect our restaurants to have with the surrounding community.
We believe the approach to expansion that provides the best opportunity for us is to continue to execute upon the fundamentals that have made us successful to date - taking care of our customers, employees and restaurants.
We're seeking experienced franchisees, who are either operating restaurants within the markets that they live or have lived in the recent past. Ideal candidates would already have an infrastructure in place to support the restaurants and have a desire to open multiple units within their home markets. We plan to avoid absentee ownership and prospects who aren't experienced and fully versed in the restaurant business.
Franchise growth plan
As has always been our mantra, we plan to expand as rapidly as the success of our operating restaurants allow us. We are more focused on execution at the restaurant/community level and developing one successful restaurant after another than we are on the accumulation of big numbers. Initially, we are focused on the states and markets tangential to our home market of Illinois but plan on expanding these parameters as we ramp up.
Our franchise fee is $40,000 and we are in the contract documentation stage with our first franchise. We anticipate this being executed by Nov. 1.
Maintaining the brand image and experience
The first, and most important, step in ensuring the maintenance of brand standards/experience is being hyper-focused on bringing the franchisees into the fold that share our culture and passion for serving the community and delivering a true hospitality experience to our customers. We have scalable, community based, marketing programs as well as solid training documentation and procedures that will serve to engage and educate prospective franchisees in the Meatheads brand and culture.
Tom Jednorowicz, founder/CEO ofMeatheads ,is a Chicago-based restaurant and real estate entrepreneur with an interest inearlystage, high-growth companies. For the past 20 years, he has focused on developing and executing strategic, large-scale retail expansions, many in the fast-casual industry.
Topics: Franchising & Growth