Growth | September 2012 | By Mary Avant

History in the Making

QSR celebrates 410 years of industry milestones.

Farmer Brothers has been perfecting its coffee recipe for generations.
Farmer Brothers has been perfecting its coffee recipe for generations.
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5
Years

Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill

Smart but Steady

Garbanzo may be the baby of the list this year, but it’s not an amateur by any means. Under the leadership of Alon Mor, who spent eight years working with Panera Bread’s Ken Rosenthal, the Colorado-based chain has loads of industry knowledge.

There’s also the fact that launching a brand in the middle of the worst recession in decades can toughen up even the youngest of brands. “Everybody asks us how it is to operate in a recession environment,” Mor says. “I’ve always said, ‘We don’t know any better.’”

With 14 company-owned locations under its belt, the concept launched a franchise program earlier this year and plans to break into the D.C./Baltimore market over the next two years. Mor says deals are also in place for more than 10 additional markets—San Antonio being one—in the near future.

However, Mor says the brand, which celebrated its fifth birthday with a Kabobs launch this summer, wants to grow strategically, not quickly. “It’s about growing smart,” he explains. “We have no reason not to be on the same path as the other fast casuals.”

15
Years

Boloco

Rewriting the Golden Rule

For some industry execs, a passion for food just isn’t enough. That’s why Boloco CEO John Pepper switched his focus to people—his people.

By offering progressive employee benefits—health and dental plans, matching 401(k)s, and transportation discounts, along with higher pay rates so employees can actually take advantage of these great offers—the Boston-based burrito chain has turned the golden rule on its head.

“We switched it to say, ‘Do unto others as they would have you do unto them,’” Pepper explains.

To apply that concept to consumers, it rewarded 15 years of loyalty by hosting an “18 Days of Free Burritos” event in February in partnership with the Life is Good organization, raising more than $27,000 for underprivileged children. The brand hosted another free burrito promotion in June to raise money for the Norris Cotton Cancer Center in New Hampshire. “It really isn’t about getting presents,” Pepper says about Boloco’s milestone, “but about giving presents.”

20
Years

Philly’s Best

East Coast Meets West

Cheesesteaks may be the unofficial sandwich of “The City of Brotherly Love,“ but thanks to California-based Philly’s Best, West Coast diners can have an authentic cheesesteak, too.

Founded in 1992 by husband-and-wife team Andrea and Bob Levey, the brand now boasts more than 25 locations, 18 of them franchised. The Philadelphia-bred couple aim to deliver a true Philly experience, from the genuine Amoroso rolls sourced straight from Philadelphia to the posters of Philly landmarks that adorn the walls and the Eagles games that air through the NFL season. “It’s not just food,” Andrea Levey says. “It’s really a feeling. It’s an experience.”

To celebrate 20 years, the company launched a “Hoagie Jam” promotion, offering hoagies for just $5 to fans through direct mail and Facebook. It’s also rolling out a line of Philly’s Fresh Neighborhood salads—named after areas in the Leveys’ home city—and introducing pastrami this month. “It’s exciting to give people a taste of home,” Bob Levey says.

25
Years

Tasti D-Lite

From Zero to Hero

For a brand that’s hitting the quarter-century mark with 60 units in tow, it’s hard to believe that, until five years ago, Tasti was basically roaming free. When the company was purchased in 2007, CEO Jim Amos says, “there was nothing. We had to hire the staff, we had to create the training and operating manuals, we had to build the franchising system.”

Since then, the dessert brand has been on the move, acquiring Planet Smoothie in 2011. In March, it signed an agreement for 30 new units in the Middle East and, in May, popped up in Walmarts around the country.

On September 7, Tasti will offer 25-cent cups and cones to celebrate what New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg named “Tasti D-Lite Day.” “It’s a fun product,” Amos says, noting the brand’s cult following in Manhattan. “It puts a smile on people’s faces, and it’s great to be a part of.”

25
Years

Freebirds World Burrito

The King of Choices

While many brands boast about menu variety, Freebirds has the numbers to back it up—2.2 trillion, in fact. That’s the amount of possible burrito combinations the brand’s fans can create from the range of Freebirds’ made-in-house ingredients.

“The whole idea is to celebrate this freedom of choice,” says Jeff Carl, chief marketing officer for the 80-unit, Texas-based chain. “Ours is explosive in the number of choices that you have.”

More customers can now cash in on this variety thanks to Freebirds’ first franchise deal with Tavistock Restaurants in March, which set out plans to open 27 units in Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri.

Freebirds will ring in its anniversary this fall by giving special offers to its
more than 250,000 “Freebird Fanatics” and 120,000-plus Facebook fans. “This
is a celebration for those who are truly part of us,” Carl says.

35
Years

Great AmericanCookies

The Flavor of Success

One of life’s biggest dilemmas—cookies or cake—was laid to rest in June 1997, when Atlanta-based cookie and brownie brand Great American Cookies developed its iconic cookie cake.

While many flavor favorites, like Original Chocolate and Peanut Butter Supreme, have stood the test of time, brand director Dave Kaiser says it’s the company’s ever-expanding menu that keeps customers coming back for more. That’s why the brand introduced a Reese’s Peanut Butter brownie this year and brought back the popular Domino cookie, a dark chocolate cookie with white chocolate chunks.

But flavors aren’t the only thing on the dessert brand’s mind. With more than 300 locations in the U.S. and abroad, Great American Cookies has immediate plans to open stores in additional markets like Puerto Rico and the Caribbean Islands.

The chain celebrated its 35th birthday with the launch of its first-ever food truck in Houston and hosted “Super Cookie Cake Celebration” events at franchised locations.
In exchange for donations to nonprofit organizations, guests received a slice of giant cookie cake (below).

40
Years

Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen

You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”

For the secret to Popeyes’ 40-year success, look no further than the brand’s name. “It’s really what the essence of the brand is: our Louisiana heritage,” says Dick Lynch, chief global brand officer for Popeyes.

To capitalize on its unique culture, the brand initiated a major reimaging program, which includes fresh advertising and venue décor, such as spice jars lining the walls, colorful themes, and real Louisiana art.

Popeyes has already seen global same-store sales increase 7.4 percent in 2011, on top of a 3.4 percent increase in 2010. In addition to the brand’s 2,000-plus units, Popeyes announced plans in June to enter Peru, marking the 27th country the Southern chicken concept will operate in.

Kicking off the anniversary celebration in February, Popeyes launched a shrimp tacklebox and a one-day offer in March for eight pieces of its bone-in fried chicken for $5.99. The 40th anniversary was also the topic of this year’s international franchise convention, held in New Orleans, where the theme looked determinedly to the future: “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet.”

50
Years

Taco Bell

Reinventing the Taco Wheel

When Glen Bell opened the doors to his first Taco Bell in Downey, California, the concept of quick-serve Mexican food was anything but mainstream. Now, with more than 5,600 locations across the U.S., the chain is one of the most powerful in the industry.

Hoping to play off its past while inventing its future, Taco Bell rang in its 50th anniversary by partnering with Frito-Lay to create the Doritos Locos Taco, the biggest launch in brand history. In 10 weeks, more than 100 million Doritos Locos were sold.

But that wasn’t the end of the anniversary story. In July, Taco Bell introduced a rejuvenated menu aimed at consumers who treat food as an experience. Collaborating with Chef Lorena Garcia, Taco Bell unveiled the new Cantina Bell menu, which includes bowls and burritos made with ingredients like roasted corn salsa, pico de gallo, 100 percent white meat grilled chicken, black beans, and cilantro white rice.

80
Years

Krystal

Krystal’s Keys to Success

With 80 years of history and more than 360 locations operating in 11 Southern states, Krystal has experienced its share of hard-earned lessons. Here are a few secrets to its storied success:

  • Stick to your core. Krystal hasn’t strayed far from what made the first location in Chattanooga, Tennessee, so special: its bite-sized, steamed-in-onion burgers. “That’s the way the brand started and that’s what’s going to continue making it successful in the next 80 years,” says Brad Wahl, vice president of marketing.
  • But know when to evolve. Though Krystal clings tight to its iconic burger, it’s also adapted through the years to satisfy consumers’ changing taste preferences. Along the way, it’s added Sunrisers (breakfast sandwiches), Chiks (chicken sandwiches), Pups (small hotdogs with chili and cheese), and MilkQuakes (real ice cream milkshakes).
  • Stay loyal to your customers, and they’ll stay loyal to you. Krystal realizes that the customers own the brand. “It’s about following their lead and what they want and expect out of the brand,” Wahl says, “and never forgetting about who the customer is.”
100
Years

Farmer Brothers

Jack of All Trades

What started as a simple coffee business in the back of Roy Farmer’s family bicycle shop grew into a company that’s known not only for its traditional, premium, and specialty coffees, but also its tea, spices, and culinary products.

After making notable acquisitions over the past five years—it purchased specialty coffee roaster Coffee Bean International in 2007 and Sara Lee’s Direct Store Delivery Foodservice in 2009—Farmer Brothers’ products are now served in more than 60,000 food and coffee establishments across the country.

For its 100th birthday, the company launched the Artisan Collection, the brand’s first hand-crafted specialty coffee, setting the stage for what’s to come for Farmer Brothers. “This organization has never stood still,” says Mike Keown, president and CEO. “Learning, growing, and mastery is a trademark that I’m certain we’ll continue doing.”

Happy 15th Anniversary, QSR!

Fifteen years and still going strong.

QSR’s tale begins in the mid-’90s, an era of grunge and alternative rock, the introduction of the World Wide Web, and a budding fast-food industry.

While involved in another foodservice media venture,
the soon-to-be publisher of QSR spotted the gaping hole where a quick serve–focused magazine could not just fit,
but flourish. In no time, the mission was pinned down—
create an industry magazine for quick-service franchisees—and a name was fashioned: QSR, “The Magazine of Quick Service Restaurant Success.”

In 1997, the publication hit the ground running, garnering praise from industry members, who devoured the magazine from the very start (perhaps it was the dynamite interview with none other than fast-food legend Dave Thomas in the first issue that truly set the stage for the top-quality content QSR has continued to produce).

But what a difference 15 years can make! Though the magazine originally focused on the quick-serve segment, it soon became apparent that QSR (both the magazine and the segment) included fast-casual concepts, too. From the debut issue—in which the premier “Ones to Watch” segment highlighted California Pizza Kitchen ASAP, a so-called “premium fast serve”—it became clear that fast casual couldn’t be stopped or ignored.

Within a few short years, our writers put together a host of stellar pieces dedicated to shedding light on what the fast-casual
movement was, how to define it, whether it was a trend poised to stick around, and what the competition meant for quick serves. Perhaps most telling about the trend’s staying power was QSR’s new tagline in August 2003:
“Quality and Speed for Restaurant Success.”

Also making waves during our history: consumers’ increasing desire and demand for healthier food options. Through the years, the health issue—whether it was the low-fat craze of the late ’90s, the trans-fat fixation in 2005, or the sodium scare in 2009—has become trendier and obviously more pertinent, as waistlines and the rate of obesity across America have rapidly ballooned.

While the struggle of reconciling food that’s healthy with food that boosts the bottom line plagues the industry, advances have been made along the way to account for any effect our industry’s products might have on the well-being of our customers (just look at McDonald’s recent switch from apples to fries in Happy Meals as an example).

We’ve also traced amazing innovation in the foodservice industry and beyond, from the rise of the Internet, the growing use of debit and credit cards, and the recent social media phenomenon to the more widely acknowledged concern over sustainable and ethically sourced products and practices.

Unfortunately, we’ve also
been witness to some of the greatest disasters and tragedies to take
place on American soil. QSR has illustrated how quick-serve operators have helped their communities in the face of tragedies like September 11, Hurricane Katrina, and the BP oil spill.

But we haven’t just chronicled great struggles; we’ve also seen our share of triumphs in the segment. We’ve pioneered ground-breaking studies along the way, such as the QSR 50 and the annual Drive-Thru Study, which have spurred
countless quick serves to put their best efforts toward bringing home the top prize.

Speaking of prizes, QSR has won its fair share over the years, from a host of Eddie Awards to the esteemed 2003 Jesse H. Neal Award for business journalism. But without a doubt, our biggest award—or reward, rather—is the opportunity to serve our readers. No matter how the landscape alters over the next 15, 30, 45, or even 100 years, bringing you in-depth coverage of everything you need to know to survive and thrive in the industry will always remain our top priority.