FAT Brands Unlocks the Strength of its Diverse Portfolio

    The company managed to put Fatburger, Buffalo's Express, and Hot Dog on a Stick under one roof, and more combinations could be coming in the future. 

    Web Exclusives | December 9, 2022 | Ben Coley
    A combined Fatburger, Hot Dog on a Stick, and Buffalo's Express location.
    FAT Brands
    The tri-brand store is located in a 1,000-square-foot endcap space in Los Angeles.

    Nine years ago, FAT Brands found an opportunity to place wings and burgers under the same roof with its first co-brand Fatburger and Buffalo’s Express location. As chief brand officer Mason Wiederhorn explains, “Who wouldn’t love that from a customer’s perspective?”

    The nickname for the concept, “Fatbuff,” is even easy to say. Since 2013, well over 100 of these co-brand units have opened, including the first one in Paris

    “It's just been good for operators and whatnot, especially when we're talking about marginal dollars in the door when we already have the space and the labor and everything there,” Wiederhorn says. 

    In July 2021, FAT Brands spent $442.5 million on Global Franchise Group (Round Table Pizza, Marble Slab Creamery, Hot Dog on A Stick, Great American Cookies, and Pretzelmaker) knowing the deal would lead to a number of opportunities to shuffle brands around and experiment with co-branding compatibilities. Hot Dog on a Stick appeared as the best choice to undergo the first-ever tri-concept operation alongside Fatburger and Buffalo’s Express. Mostly because of its brand awareness as a Los Angeles-born restaurant and the allure of its incremental snacking sales. 

    A franchisee of co-brand Fatburger and Buffalo’s Express locations took on the three-legged concept, opening in a 1,000-square-foot location in L.A.’s Valley Village neighborhood last month. 

    “It came together,” Wiederhorn says. “It was one of those projects where there were a couple up and downs just trying to figure out the right equipment pieces and whatnot, but we were able to pull it off and trust it was really that the brands spoke to each other. And we felt that the customer base was pretty similar enough, but also had different customer bases to where we could bring new people in the door.”

    In general, a co-brand store under FAT Brands earns between 10-20 percent more in sales than a traditional outlet. The company is hoping longtime customers of Fatburger and Buffalo’s Express latch onto Hot Dog on a Stick and vice versa.

    It’s an endcap space—with good street visibility, Wiederhorn says—that used to house a burger location. Fatburger serves as the anchor restaurant, so its branding covers most of the look and feel. Buffalo’s Express has secondary signage facing the parking lot, and Hot Dog on a Stick has signage looking toward the street. The signs are positioned in a way that if a customer is standing at the corner of the building, they’d be able to see both.

    Wiederhorn says positioning Hot Dog on a Stick to face the street was intentional. 

    “We've had so many people that have just been like, 'I've been driving by for weeks and I'm so excited that Hot Dog on A Stick is coming here,' and so I think that worked out really well for the location," Wiederhorn says. 

    The restaurant features the full Fatburger menu. Buffalo’s Express is already a condensed version of Buffalo’s Cafe, so it came with a menu built for a tri-brand environment. A majority of Hot Dog on a Stick's  products are part of the restaurant, with the main exclusion being lemonade. There are plans to add it to future locations, but in this instance, the beverage required too much space. Offering lemonade in this unit would’ve required certain changes that FAT Brands wasn’t comfortable with, Wiederhorn says. As the company organized the back of house, some sections of the kitchen needed more attention than others, such as Hot Dog on a Stick's dipping process. From a SKUs perspective, everything is kept standard and ingredients are not shared. Wiederhorn says Hot Dog on a Stick has a limited number of SKUs, which helped with plugging it in. 

    In terms of training employees, the franchisee brought over team members with experience working on Fatburger and Buffalo’s Express, leaving room for more focus on Hot Dog on a Stick. Wiederhorn adds that another big part was learning how to properly educate guests about how to order. 

    “This is a new concept doing three brands in one location like this and so there was a pretty big emphasis on that,” he says. “Just making sure we're able to discuss the methodology behind how everything came together.”

    It’s the first tri-brand created by FAT Brands, but it’s not the only one of its kind within the company. Great American Cookies, Marble Slab Creamery, and Pretzelmaker have some locations together in mall-based food court situations. As for other combinations, FAT Brands recently opened a Johnny Rockets and Hurricane Grill & Wings unit in Washington, D.C. at the at the Holiday Inn Washington-Central/White House. Wiederhorn says the company has looked into grouping Round Table Pizza with another brand and linking Johnny Rockets and Hot Dog on a Stick.

    There’s interest among the L.A. franchise community for more Fatburger/Hot Dog on a Stick/Buffalo’s Express locations, but FAT Brands wants to make sure the first one goes smoothly. The company will watch the store closely over the next several months to see if anything needs to be addressed before it decides to scale.

    "We're really looking at it from a strategic standpoint to say, 'OK, how do these brands pair well together?'" Wiederhorn says. "How can we add more value to the customer and eliminate that 'no' vote and have more menu offerings for a lot of different guests when they come as a group?"

    When it comes to four concepts, or even more, Wiederhorn won’t put a cap on anything, but he does feel as if three is a number that works best. When there’s more than that, he says it would become a shared food hall environment with separate stations. It's an arrangement FAT Brands has explored before. He envisions a scenario in which tri-brand and co-brand storefronts exist next to each other, with shared back-of-house efficiencies, dry goods, and storage. 

    Over the years, FAT Brands has grown to 17 restaurants with more than 2,350 locations and 760 franchisees globally in over 40 countries. There are more than 325 multi-unit operators overseeing two to 75 stores. 

    Essentially, the company hasn’t found its limit quite yet. 

    “They’re fun projects,” Wiederhorn says. “I think everybody's really excited about it. And generally, it's something new. It's something different. We’re still learning, and I think that's healthy for any of these new projects that people take on.”