McAlister’s Deli

From the pages of Restaurant Franchising
Leading a Sweet Tea Nation

McAlister’s Deli, long known for its famous sweet tea and its club sandwiches, is ready to grow again. “I was a customer before I worked here,” says McAlister’s CEO, Frank Paci. “I love that our concept is positioned in a great place in terms of food trends toward higher quality, fresh foods with a tremendous amount of variety.

“We’ve done a lot of work in the past year, including introducing new menu items, upgrading our salads, our proteins and breads, and expanding our club sandwich line to include an Angus roast beef club and a vegetarian club sandwich. I feel like we’ve taken a concept that has been well-loved and made it even better in this last year.”

The menu offerings and service experience customers receive enabled McAlister’s to place as the No. 4 spot in a national survey on customer satisfaction. “Those customers are the heart and soul of the concept,” Paci says. Customers even follow the brand at its TeaFreaks page on Facebook.

“Our customers are incredibly loyal. They talk about ‘their McAlister’s,’ and our operators know their customers very well,” he says. One of McAlister’s design features is a mural depicting local scenes, and even with the redesign, the murals remain. “We have that hometown feeling, and we want to keep it.”

McAlister’s is currently in 22 states with 305 restaurants and is expanding in contiguous markets. “I think of us as a great opportunity, an undiscovered gem in the restaurant business,” Paci says.

“Franchisees can pick up the phone and talk to me, to anyone, if they need to. We are making sure we have a culture that responds to our franchisees.” —Frank Paci, CEO

What McAlister’s is not is a regional concept. “In the past, some people thought of us as a southern food concept because of our sweet tea,” Paci says, “But there’s nothing on our menu that is particularly southern. We have had great success in diverse places such as Indianapolis, Indiana, Pueblo, Colorado, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Laramie, Wyoming to name a few. Some concepts’ menus might limit where they can grow geographically, but not ours.”

McAlister’s is popular in nontraditional locations such as college campuses, but all the best locations include three things, Paci says. “We look for proximity to a sizable daytime population for lunch and catering, which is a big part of the business, good retail so there’s abundant parking with easy-in and easy-out access, and finally, a nearby residential population base so there’s dinner business too.”

Good franchisee candidates have some foodservice background. “They have to be service-oriented individuals,” Paci says. “We have great operators who have come from casual dining concepts. McAlister’s is much more like casual dining than pure fast food. In fast food, it’s about how efficiently you can turn product out of the kitchen. We are so much more about service. We are going to give you casual dining quality food and service for a lower price, and there’s no tip. That’s why fast-casual concepts have continued to grow.”

Franchise agreements are typically for a minimum of three stores. Franchisees get fulltime training at a company training restaurant, then a corporate team is on site for opening. Franchise business consultants check in with franchisees on a regular basis. Franchisees can be on the advisory council if they want to get involved at the company level.

“We are a relatively small concept. The franchisees can pick up the phone and talk to me, to anyone, if they need to. We are making sure we have a culture that responds to our franchisees,” Paci says.

“I am excited about the menu work we have done,” he says. “We are still seeing the benefits from that, with consistent, positive sales for the last year and a half. We continue to get positive feedback from customers. There are no barriers to where we can go next and do well.”

For more information about franchising opportunities with McAlister’s Deli, visit www.mcalistersdeli.com.