“Actually our business has been very strong in the mall environment,” Shin says. “We had same-store sales grow mid-single digits [this past year], which is much stronger than industry average.”
The strip center and standalone locations present an entirely different challenge. Mall dining tends to be an impulse decision. Customers are there for another reason and expect to grab a bite, or not. Where they choose isn’t necessarily defined when they get into the car. While that spontaneity can be true of non-mall restaurants as well, it’s nowhere near as frequent.
Shin says the strip center Charleys have to become destinations. That’s a challenge, but it also has its perks. “Customers can access our cheesesteaks now a lot more readily than going, parking in the mall, and walking all the way through the mall to the food court. We’re actually making it a lot easier for customers to visit us.”
That benefit is balanced by losing guaranteed foot traffic. Shin says the marketing effort is much more focused and intense at strip center locations. They’ll launch a social campaign around a 3-mile radius about a week before opening. Charleys will also typically purchase a billboard in the area a month prior to get the name out and build anticipation.
And Charleys’ growth trajectory, which calls for about 70 units next year as opposed to the 40–50 its tracked in recent years, is circling the brand’s strongest markets, including Florida, Texas, and California.
As for the menu, Charleys has long offered chicken as part of its Chicken Philly menu offerings. A few years back, Shin says, he was looking at protein consumption and realized the brand should expand this offering into other tiers. He cited a forecast that calls for chicken consumption in the U.S. to almost equal pork and beef combined in the future.
Per capita U.S. beef consumption peaked in the 1970s and has since declined by about one-third, according to USDA data on food availability. Pork consumption stayed mostly constant over the same period, while consumption of chicken more than doubled.
Charleys’ tried the chicken finger concept about three years ago. Shin says the chicken finger business boosted double-digits. He still thought it could do better. That’s when further study led him to the bone-in chicken wing.
There’s a lot of data out there about just how many chicken wings Americans eat, especially in regards to the Super Bowl. But one 2017 study, from Moore’s Marinades & Sauces, suggested the average meat eater will devour roughly 18,000 chicken wings in their lifetime. About 1.33 billion chicken wings were consumed during last year’s Super Bowl, by the way.
And it goes without saying that entire restaurant chains have been built on this chicken preference. Charleys’ new menu features wings tossed-to-order with 10 chef-inspired flavors ranging from Angry Ghost and Nashville Hot to milder options like Zesty Lemon-Lime Rub and Sweet Teriyaki. Customers can order Classic Wings or Boneless Wings and choose from new sides including celery sticks, coleslaw, baked beans or Texas toast.
“It was almost a year of research and now it’s showing great results,” Shin says.
Moving forward, Shin believes the new model and menu will only make the brand’s expansion more impactful.
“We’re just very thankful for what we’ve been able to do with 600 units,” he says. “And we’re looking forward to growing to 1,000 units with this improved format.”