Franchising | June 2011 | By Jody Shee

5 Brands You Should Know About (But Don’t)

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LYFE Kitchen

Headquarters: Chicago
Number of units: 1
Founded: 2011

Industry eyes are trained on the much-anticipated opening of the first LYFE Kitchen (Love Your Food Everyday) in Palo Alto, California, scheduled for the end of August.

It is a new concept that doesn’t fit neatly in quick-serve, fast-casual, or any other service model, says Mike Donahue, founding partner and chief communications officer. The company is calling it a “lifestyle restaurant” where guests will feel like they can hang out and enjoy a sense of community or order food to go.

The restaurant concept was developed by investment banker Stephen Sidwell and former McDonald’s executive Mike Roberts, who took their vision of guilt-free, wholesome, affordable food to the restaurant drawing board and built a menu development dream team made up of celebrity chef Art Smith (former personal chef to Oprah Winfrey) and Tal Ronnen, famed vegan and vegetarian chef.

Guests will be greeted at the door of the 3,700-square-foot restaurant and will have food choices created to be flavorful, nourishing, and familiar. They’ll include breakfast burritos, sweet corn chowder, wild mushroom flatbread, classic Niman Ranch burgers, and Art’s unfried chicken. All dishes will be 600 or fewer calories, and everything is made without the use of fryers or microwaves. Lunch prices will range from $6 to $8 with dinner entrées running $14–$18.

Besides the food, the technology may be what steals the show. The company plans to use ground-breaking table technology with proprietary iPad-like devices allowing for menu ordering, and perhaps music, lessons, and games. “A lot of [technology] companies have come to us with great ideas, so we’ll see what else we could do to maximize the customer experience,” Donahue says.

In keeping with the times, the company will be mindful of its environmental impact and will source produce locally whenever possible.

It will also operate in the new age of no advertising in favor of grassroots social media and community engagement, giving a percentage of profits to charity and to support local organizations and groups.

The concept’s main charity is Common Threads, which Smith cofounded to teach children from low-income families how to cook in order to help eliminate childhood obesity.

The company plans to open, test, and tweak the first restaurant and let guests vote with their wallets for the first 60–90 days before opening any more doors, Donahue says. Although Donahue’s not talking, there have been reports that as many as 250 units could open within five years.

Naked Pizza

Headquarters: New Orleans
Founded: 2007
Franchised: 2009
Number of units: 20

Naked Pizza thrives as a better-for-you pizza take-out and delivery operation. Its pizza crust is made of 10 grains and seeds with prebiotic fiber from agave plants and added probiotics for digestive health. The toppings are all natural, and gluten-free pizza is also available.

“We’ve taken the world’s most popular and unhealthy food and made it better,” says Robbie Vitrano, cofounder of the rapidly expanding New Orleans–based chain.

Entrepreneurs Jeff Leach and Randy Crochet opened Naked Pizza, a product of post-Katrina redevelopment, in 2007 under the name “World’s Healthiest Pizza.” The ill-chosen moniker was rebranded to Naked Pizza in 2008. “Aside from naked and pizza being the two most favorite words in the English language, we wanted a name that was fun, accessible, and that also captures our all-natural, common-sense ethos,” Vitrano says. He officially joined the company when Naked Pizza put together its franchise company in 2009, fueled by two billionaire investors—Robert Kraft and Mark Cuban.

It positions itself as a post-recession, post-mass-media company. A franchise store build out costs from $250,000 to $300,000 with minimal marketing costs, given its social media marketing strategy. The brand has more than 11,000 Twitter followers, an impressive number for a company of its size.

For the three months leading up to the opening of its first store in Dubai, Naked Pizza established itself as a credible Twitter voice during the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. “When the doors opened in Dubai, thousands of people showed up,” Vitrano says. Because of the company’s social media activity, customers were already familiar with Naked Pizza’s voice, which addresses issues of diet and health as well as entrepreneurship and sensible business practices.

It has grown to 20 units, with two open in Dubai, and has had some 6,000 franchise inquiries, with a few hundred units already in development.

By the end of 2011, the company expects to have as many as 70 units open, and likely 70 more in 2012. “If we decide to expand exponentially, we will be established [in large U.S. cities], and with that comes efficiencies in the ability to reach lots of people and continue to do what we do so well,” Vitrano says.

With a well-developed business model, fine-tuned operations procedures, and 26 available toppings, the company is positioning itself in the big leagues with the likes of Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, and Domino’s, with a healthy twist.

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