Smiling Moose Deli’s Mo the Moose has been racking up points with young entrepreneurs. The last three Smiling Moose Deli store openings have all been accomplished by owners under the age of 30, and interestingly, none of them had prior experience in the restaurant industry.
Nathan Everson just opened his first store in Fargo, North Dakota, last month at the age of 29. He has a background in aviation, an appreciation for good food, and an eye on the future.
“At my age, I specifically have an eye towards growth,” he says. “Smiling Moose Deli is on the cutting edge, and it’s exciting to be a part of it. Smiling Moose Deli is like the Wild West, there is so much potential!”
Everson gives most of the credit for the store’s popularity and success in Fargo to the fresh Smiling Moose menu, saying, “Every single day, someone approaches me to tell me how much they enjoyed their fresh chopped salad, or the chicken noodle soup tasted great, or how ‘Liz’s Reuben’ is their favorite sandwich,” Everson continues. “We are receiving an overwhelmingly positive response from the community.”
In particular, the gluten-free menu has garnered a tremendous amount of attention and Everson was humbled on two different occasions, witnessing celiac customers in tears because they had finally found an option for eating out.
The wide variety of made-to-order sandwiches and wraps, custom chopped salads, and signature soups certainly made an impression on Abby Bridges, who signed her first franchise agreement for the Gillette, Wyoming–location when she was 27 years old.
Now, two years later, she has signed on for three additional Wyoming and South Dakota stores.
“I knew before I opened the first store that I would be opening more,” she says. “The food is so fresh that we are setting the new standard and the quality is setting us apart.”
Bridges broke the Smiling Moose Deli franchise sales volume record in Gillette this past May.
Smiling Moose Deli President Larry Hill credits the success of these recent openings to the youth of the brand itself.
"We try to embrace the entrepreneurial and creative spirit of our franchisees while providing them with the systems and processes necessary to succeed," he says. "We are not a paint-by-numbers franchise and I think that's a huge draw to young entrepreneurs. We want our owners to enjoy being part of the brand because we rely on them for growth as well. It's a wonderful partnership really."
Four out of six out-of-state franchisees have already signed on to open more stores in their regions.
A reasonable start-up fee also helps to open the door a bit further to young entrepreneurs, while emphasizing that operations and training is what ultimately yields higher dividends for all new owners, regardless of their age.
“Operations is a lot of hard work and much of it goes unnoticed,” Hill says. “But when done right, the entire team can deliver a really amazing host of fresh choices and this is at the heart of what people find so appealing. It’s the whole package—choices and fresh food made on the spot by people who really care about the food they are delivering.”
Annual sales volume has doubled in the past year, and the brand is enjoying the highest average unit volume (AUV) it has ever recorded.
This kind of big thinking is exactly what 29-year-old franchise owner Colter Lange had in mind from day one, when he opened his first store in Midland, Texas, last year.
“We had high hopes, and our first opening exceeded all of our goals,” Lange says. “And then we signed up for five more locations.”
Lange just opened his second store in San Angelo, Texas, in June and is already working on locations for his next two stores in Lubbock and Odessa, Texas.