Genghis Grill

From the pages of Restaurant Franchising
Mongolian stir fry restaurant shows strong growth and plans for expansion

Genghis Grill franchise

Genghis Grill trades on a famous name for some fun on its Web site and menus and in its restaurants: the Khanment cards, for example, or Khan’s Kitchen, the food bar where diners pick their ingredients and sauces for the cooks to stir-fry. (The build your own bowl stir-fry concept is an interpretation of Genghis Khan’s soldiers using their shields to stir fry meals on the battlefield.)

The concept is gaining in popularity. Genghis Grill opened its first store in Dallas in 1998 and has grown to 41 stores, with 20 planned openings in 2010. Of the current 41 stores, 17 are corporate owned.

“We were a franchisee first,” says CEO Al Bhakta. “My partners and I owned three stores, and we ended up buying out the company when it was going through some tough times and wasn’t growing. We believed in the brand and took advantage of the opportunity.”

With that background, Bhakta and his team know what it means to be franchisees and what it takes to support them.

“Everything we do is for the benefit of the restaurant. Everything we do from a support standpoint is based on that one fundamental philosophy, that we always look at it from the operator/franchisee standpoint,” Bhakta says.

The company looks for franchisees who have restaurant experience, especially operations experience with multi-unit (non-competing) fast-casual concepts. And, of course, they must be well-capitalized. “We like to see the first store all cash,” says Bhakta, which means a new franchisee needs about half a million for the start-up.

Genghis Grill offers site review help, construction help, and hands-on training for the new franchisee. “It’s a two-part process,” says Bhakta. “We have operators come to a three-week training both in a classroom and hands-on format. Then we send a team of five people to a new restaurant and help train the staff and stay through the opening.”

Once up and running, franchisees count on help from field consultants/franchisee liaisons who come to the restaurants to monitor numbers, food costs, labor costs. “This protects our brand at the same time it helps franchisees develop their businesses,” says Bhakta.

Store feedback comes to corporate two ways, from the aforementioned Khanment cards and from a mystery shopper program the company uses.

Finding great real estate is one of the biggest challenges to Genghis Grill as it grows. Expanding into new territories where no one is familiar with the concept means having to describe and explain the idea to a potential landlord. And chances are good the company is competing with other fast-casual concepts for the same space. (Genghis Grill smartly has a real estate reporting button on its web site “for real estate professionals that have sites that are ideal for Genghis Grill.”)

Asked if the company had to address its marketing and sales any differently during the recent economic crisis, Bhakta says, “No. We’ve stuck to our fundamentals and operated the stores right. We’ve provided optimum service and a good quality product. One of our big points is our value proposition and the health factor. We’ve really pushed that.”

That health angle is a good one. “We cater to every diet in the world. Customers can keep it super healthy or they can indulge as much as they want. Whatever they build, we cook it for them. They are in charge of what they pick and what they put in the bowl,” says Bhakta. (Nutritional information is available for all the sauces, too, so people can keep tabs on their intake.)

The value/health push paid off: Same store sales were up three percent over last year, and “if you’ve heard that if you’re flat, that’s the ‘new up?’ Then we are really up,” says Bhakta.

For more information about franchising opportunities with Genghis Grill, visit www.genghisgrill.com/franchise.php