Beside the steady growth of Wayback, founded in 1991 in Newark, Delaware as Jake’s Hamburgers, it’s worth noting where some of the heavy lifting was done. Wayback set to work on expansion right in the thick of the Great Recession, more than doubling its unit count in a two-year span when many brands were constricting. There are a bevy of reasons why, naturally, but Chemero, Wayback’s executive vice president, points to one foresight he believes ignited the brand’s growth.
He noticed, as many operators did, the cost of rent rising at an alarming pace across the country. “And sooner or later the price points weren’t going to be … well, you couldn’t sell enough burgers to pay the bills and make profit. It was that simple,” he says.
Wayback’s answer: the brand went small. It started looking at 1,600-square-foot boxes as its vehicle for growth. “It was funny,” Chemero says. “A lot of our competitors said you guys are crazy. You can’t do enough volume in a small box like that to pay the bills. We’re like no, you’re wrong because technology has finally caught up with the restaurant industry.”
Wayback was a technology pioneer in the burger space. Want proof? Olo, a digital juggernaut that currently powers digital ordering and delivery for more than 200 restaurant brands across 45,000 locations, and is used by 100 million-plus customers, linked with Wayback some eight years ago. “They still thank us to this day because we were one of their first customers,” Chemero says.
When the app craze hit in 2011–2012, Wayback was an early adopter with delivery and mobile pay platforms. The chain had digital capabilities for guests to curbside pick up, order-ahead, and accept delivery in some markets well before off-premises was the headline grabber it is today. Some franchisees and operators were even jumping in their cars and bringing food to guests.
Chemero adds that Wayback is currently working on a “game-changer” in the delivery space that will erase the burden of the delivery dilemma. He couldn't share exact details just yet. “The individual restaurant owner, how do they pay for that? How do they absorb 35 percent off the top on each order? Thirty percent on each order. Something’s got to give,” he says of third-party vendors.
Another perk of being a small-footprint operation was the low initial investment, which attracted a wide pool of franchisees. Wayback averages about $350,000 to open a restaurant and charges a 5 percent royalty fee. The desirable entry point is one reason it keeps landing on best franchise lists, including No. 8 on the latest FranchiseRankings.com collection for fast casual options. Perspective operators need to have liquid capital of $125,000 and a net worth of $350,000 to qualify.
Chemero says the financial allure doesn’t sum up the story, however. Wayback looks at the service equation from two sides of the same spectrum: Its operators must put hospitality on a pedestal, and the company’s 30 or so corporate employees must do the same for franchisees.