Emerging Concepts | January 2011 | By Judy Kneiszel

One to Watch: Shane’s Rib Shack

Shane Thompson started with little more than an idea and his grandfather’s secret sauce recipe.

Barbecue is both family food and community food, says Shane Thompson, founder of Shane’s Rib Shack. He says people enjoy it at backyard gatherings, tailgate parties, family events, and—for the past eight years—at a growing number of restaurants Thompson started with little more than an idea and his grandfather’s secret sauce recipe.

“Barbecue takes a long time to cook if you do it right,” Thompson says. “We’re trying to redefine the barbecue experience by making it easy to get. We want to show people that barbecue is a great product they can come to our place for whenever they want, instead of having to spend hours on it at home or having to go to some dark, smoky, out-of-the-way place. A Shane’s Rib Shack will be clean and accessible and you don’t end up smelling like smoke.”

Clean and accessible isn’t enough to attract families with children, though. To do that, variety and price are important, too, Thompson says.

Thompson and his wife, Stacey, who is involved in marketing and training at Shane’s, have four children. Thompson says he understands what it’s like to have the whole family in the car trying to decide on a place to eat. Dad may want barbecue, he says, but mom wants a salad and all the kids want something different. He tries to resolve that debate to everyone’s satisfaction at Shane’s, which has become much more than just a place for ribs. The menu includes barbecued pork and chicken sandwiches, salads, chicken tenders, and wings. Sides vary from the expected coleslaw, baked beans, and french fries to regional favorites such as fried okra, Brunswick stew, and collard greens.

The kids’ menu at Shane’s offers chicken tenders, mac & cheese, a grilled cheese sandwich, or a kids’ burger, along with a choice of fries or a side salad and a drink. These options range from $3.99 to $4.59. Kids are also welcome to order small portions of Shane’s signature items from the regular menu like barbecued pork, chicken, or ribs.

An average lunch ticket at Shane’s is $8, while dinner is about $12, which means a family of four can eat for about $30.

“Some barbecue places are not very affordable,” Thompson says. “We try to make it affordable for families because if you can get a kid at a young age to love your restaurant, you have them for life.”

Thompson says because Shane’s environment is casual, parents don’t have to worry about their kids being loud or spilling drinks. Parental worries about nutrition have been addressed, too.

“Barbecue is not an unhealthy food,” he says. “Ribs are not an unhealthy product, and neither is chopped pork or chicken. Any visible fat is removed and additional fat cooks off. You end up with a good protein-to-fat ratio and kids need protein. Kids are often protein-deficient today.”

He says healthy sides like salads and green beans are available, and lower-fat grilled chicken tenders are a new option for kids at Shane’s.

Shane’s Rib Shack

FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT: Shane Thompson

HQ: Atlanta

YEAR STARTED: 2002

ANNUAL SALES: $49 million

TOTAL UNITS: 69

FRANCHISE UNITS: 66

www.shanesribshack.com

“We’re trying to attract kids with healthy products that taste good,” Thompson says. “If food doesn’t taste good, kids won’t eat it. I want to give them quality protein, but it still has to taste great.”

Another tactic Thompson uses to build customer loyalty is offering gluten-free choices.

“You don’t understand unless you know people who can’t tolerate gluten or have Celiac disease,” he says. “Our gluten-free menu came about at the request of customers, and they really appreciate it. They have become huge fans of Shane’s.”

Shane’s began franchising in 2004 and was acquired by Petrus Brands in 2009. It has grown to 69 stores mostly in the Southeast, with the exception of three Arizona locations, one in Iowa, and one in New York.

Thompson says Shane’s will continue to grow, especially in the South.

“We don’t want to stretch too far, because then distribution becomes a challenge,” he says. “We would go a bit farther out with multiunit operators, but we’re not in a big hurry.”

Plans are in the works to open 12–15 Shane’s Rib Shack locations in the next year.

“At the same time we’ll be ramping up our support and operations,” Thompson says. “We’re still a young brand. We have a lot of great things going for us, but we don’t want to grow too fast. We want to make good real estate decisions. We’re going to manage our growth plan.”

Part of that vision is keeping it local and impacting communities through the Education Support Program started by the Thompsons. The program encourages franchisees to support local school programs by making contributions, helping groups to raise money, providing a place for gatherings, and giving incentives, like free kids’ meal cards, for good grades.

“We have one franchisee who was asked by the city council to run for mayor,” Thompson says. “Now that’s making an impact on a community.”