Howard’s restaurant experience taught him to ask another question before buying in: Does the market need more Huey Magoo’s?
Or as he phrases it, “Is there room for a small, little chain to compete with the Chick-fil-A of the world, and Raising Cane’s, and Zaxby’s?” Combined, the three chicken tender pillars (although Chick-fil-A, versus the other two, is more of a sandwich focus) exited 2021 with 2,732, 567, and 908 units, respectively. There’s also Guthrie’s, a 50-year-old brand with 42 stores across the Southeast and Midwest and 35 in development. Guthrie’s CEO Joe Kelly Guthrie, who is the son of the company’s founder, told QSR in December 2020 chicken-finger restaurants represented a roughly $4–$5 billion-a-year industry. However, he felt it could reach $25 billion within the next two decades. Maybe sooner.
Howard has similar thoughts. “I think there’s room for all of us,” he says. “Those that do a great job with the recipe, with hospitality, with operations, those are the ones that are going to stand tall.”
For Huey Magoo’s, Howard just had to try the product to envision how it might fit alongside that boom. The quality spoke for itself, he says. But returning to the “Wingstop model” piece of growth, it was mostly a real estate arc. When Howard acquired the chain, he figured to mirror Wingstop’s inline, strip center, pickup heavy business.
And the strategy worked out of the gate. Yet seeing Chick-fil-A and the aforementioned category leaders ratchet up development, it became apparent the “tenders guys” were thriving with drive-thrus. Huey Magoo’s decided to add the option, as well as order-ahead pickup windows. “And sure enough, first one we did in a little town in Georgia called Loganville [January 2020] surpassed $3 million the first year,” Howard says. “It hit numbers that we never thought we could achieve. So we just keep raising the bar.”
Drive-thru helped Huey Magoo’s develop a diverse suite of options with “five or six different models” for operators to tap: The original, inline non drive-thru; end-caps of centers, without a window or with one; second-gen freestanding builds, which have converted everything from Pizza Huts to Steak ‘n Shake boxes; and ground-up developments.
Howard believes Huey Magoo’s has an edge on some of its peers, who aren’t likely to offer in-lines anytime soon. “Franchisees like it a lot,” he says. “They can pick and choose the way to develop.”
In mid-April, Huey Magoo’s opened its 23rd location. The Pearl, Mississippi, store is 3,400 square feet, with indoor and outdoor seating and a drive-thru. It’s the second of 20 Huey Magoo’s slated for Mississippi under Golden Corral franchisees Buddy and Stacy Powell.
Based on what’s written on the “drawing board” today, Howard says, Huey Magoo’s has sold 225 locations. There are about 30 different franchise groups comprising that pool. Huey Magoo’s sells minimum three-store deals.
Howard isn’t one to toss projections about, but he’s seen how franchise growth can feed itself if the sales support it. Operators generally start slow and gain. Presently, Huey Magoo’s 2022 is shaping up to be plenty ambitious on its own as it charts 30 or so venues. That would more than double the current footprint.
It inked fresh deals to open eight stores in the Fort Myers and Naples, Florida, areas and five surrounding Macon, Georgia.
Also, Huey Magoo’s partnered with Boyd Gaming Corporation to open in Las Vegas, at Boyd’s Fremont Hotel and Casino, by year’s end.
The 225 sold stores expand across nine states—Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Ohio, and Nevada.