Franchising | June 2011 | By Jody Shee

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

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Wildflower Bread Company

Headquarters: Scottsdale, Arizona
Founded: 1996
Number of units: 11

What began in 1996 as a need for great bread in Scottsdale, Arizona, is now an 11-unit chain of trendy fast-casual restaurants.

Wildflower Bread Company founder Louis Basile came from a restaurateur family and spent part of his career at Boston-based Au Bon Pain, helping it to increase from 3 to 255 units during his 14-year tenure. He and his wife, Tracy, then moved to Arizona and dreamed up the new restaurant in the midst of a mass-market, chain-oriented food scene.

Great bread to Basile means hand-crafted loaves from dough starters carefully fed and nurtured. “We cultivate three: caraway rye, levain, and sourdough breads,” he says. Each loaf is a three-day process—started, mixed, shaped, and refrigerated in the central commissary before being transported to the restaurants for daily baking.

The company made artisan bread long before it became trendy. In addition, Basile likes to think of Wildflower as an early forerunner to the burgeoning fast-casual segment—something he is familiar with as a founding member and chairman of the Fast Casual Industry Council.

Particularly distinctive is Wildflower’s separate menu offerings for each daypart, all served from real china with silverware.

“We really believe we are serving white-tablecloth food at everyday, affordable prices,” Basile says. The gourmet menu items, like Wildflower’s signature Lemon Ricotta Pancakes served with blueberry compote, sweet creamy butter, and hot maple syrup for $6.39, support Basile’s argument. Many dishes have six or seven ingredients, as in the Roasted Sweet Potato Sandwich also featuring fresh mozzarella, fig confit, tomato, arugula, marinated fennel, and balsamic vinaigrette on herb focaccia for $7.49. After 3 p.m., guests can choose from the dinner menu with its eight pasta dishes. Limited-time-only menu items rotate in and out seasonally, all developed by a small in-house team that includes Basile.

Each 3,000–5,100-square-foot unit is designed in keeping with the community, and charitable donations in lieu of traditional advertising are made to area causes as part of the Wildflower Cares program. Additionally, every night, leftover food is donated to shelters or churches.

“In our mind, we are out there to change lives, build communities, and feed people’s soul with passion. That’s our core driving force,” Basile says.

He plans to have 30–35 company-owned units open in the next five years, possibly into other states yet to be determined.