Carl Bachmann officially becomes CEO of BurgerFi on July 10, but his history with the company won't start there.
He's been a guest of the fast casual and its casual-dining sister concept, Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza & Wings, for years. In fact, Bachmann says the taste profile and quality are major factors that validated his decision to join the team.
"I'm kind of a New York pizza snob," says Bachmann, who currently lives in Long Island. "So the fact that Anthony's stood up and had pretty good pizza, a really good pizza, I was really impressed by that and the high-quality ingredients. Those are the things that drew me to it. Like, 'Wow, I can do something with this. I can have a lot of fun building this business.'"
Bachmann describes his upcoming tenure as the "perfect marriage" because of his quick-service and full-service background. He spent six-and-a-half years at Smashburger, serving as COO and eventually president. Prior to that, he worked more than three years at Bertucci's—which offers pizza and Italian food—and served 12 years as CEO of Ruby Tuesday's Long Island franchise.
He plans to enter BurgerFi with five priorities. It starts with employees, who Bachmann says ultimately drive business. The second is innovating around food quality and taste, something that's been a priority for BurgerFi and Anthony's in recent months. In February, the burger chain launched its BBQ Rodeo Burger, which did so well that it extended the LTO and rolled out a new patty melt version. BurgerFi also released a new mint shake with Oreo for St. Patrick's Day and a Texas Toast Patty Melt. Meanwhile, Anthony's launched Mike's Hot Honey & Thick Cut Pepperoni Pizza and Mike's Hot Honey Wings.
A third piece is redefining the portfolio in terms of where to grow and how the company can best support the franchise community. As of April 3, BurgerFi had 112 restaurants, including 85 franchises and 27 corporate units. The goal this year is to open 15-20 franchised locations after debuting 11 units in 2022. That development objective is inclusive of two to three Anthony's franchises, which would be the first of their kind. The brand currently has 60 company-owned locations. Operator NDM Hospitality will start by opening a co-branded Anthony's and BurgerFi location in Kissimmee, Florida, by adding 1,000 square feet onto the building to accommodate the pizza and wing chain, including a new gas-enhanced coal-fired oven from Wood Stone.
The next stores will be standalone but with a slimmer prototype. Anthony's is typically around 3,200 square feet, but these newer franchised outlets will be around 2,000-2,200 square feet with more than 60 dining room seats and a bar.
Bachmann says there's also opportunity in the nontraditional space. For BurgerFi in particular, airports are becoming a bigger part of growth. The chain began 2023 by opening at Newark Liberty Airport. Another is planned for Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport later this year, and several more are under negotiation.
BurgerFi's relationship with franchisees appears to be headed in the right direction as Bachmann enters the fold. In late April, the company held its first franchise summit since before COVID, which involved the gathering of operators, general managers, restaurant support leaders, and supply partners. CEO Ian Baines, who is retiring, said the "energy level and enthusiasm couldn't have been higher." Bachmann is hoping to increase that momentum.
"I think there's a lot of excitement around and a lot of pent-up demand in the United States today for a great dining experience, especially coming out of the pandemic, and giving people the right price point and a great product and a great environment to enjoy it," Bachmann says. "So when I say redefining the portfolio, it's really, how do we take that portfolio and create an incredible experience for the consumer?"
The fourth priority is consistently executing, and a big part of that deals with simplifying platforms. In this regard, Bachmann has plenty to work with. For BurgerFi, the chain has spent the past year implementing self-ordering kiosks at company-owned stores. Franchisees are starting to obtain the technology, as well. Results have shown higher average check, significant usage from walk-in customers, and the ability for stores to deploy workers to more hospitality-related tasks. On the casual-dining side, Anthony's introduced ConverseNow's AI phone answering system across its system, which should help a business that's 50 percent off-premises and takes in 500,000 phone orders per year.
The fifth and final objective of Bachmann's upcoming role is marketing the brands. That will be overseen by Cindy Syracuse, who was hired as CMO in January. The industry veteran previously used her marketing skills with Burger King, TGI Fridays, and Bob Evans. Alongside building awareness will be undergoing a digital transformation—that's now table stakes in the restaurant industry, Bachmann says. Including kiosks, web, app, and third-party delivery, BurgerFi restaurants are at 60-70 percent digital revenue generation.
"We're really focusing on do we have the best staff?" Bachmann says. "Are we using the best partners to make sure that we're giving the best experience, the best website, the best opportunity to get our products in people's hands through an omnichannel approach?"
BurgerFi has been a publicly traded company since December 2020 following a merger with special purpose acquisition company, OPES Acquisition Corp. It's a mode of operation that Bachmann is familiar with. He hasn't led a public company, but Smashburger is a subsidiary of Jollibee Foods Corporation, an Asian-based company that trades on the stock market. He had to report to the board, just like he will do at BurgerFi. Bachmann knows there'll be a learning curve, but he's also confident that his leadership team will prep him well for earnings calls and answering to investors.
When he agreed to join BurgerFi, the board assured him that his focus will be "running great restaurants and building the business." To Bachmann, every decision comes down to three wins—is it a win for guests, is it a win for team members, and it is a win for shareholders (franchisees and stockholders). He believes all choices should be centered around that philosophy. If one of those groups isn't on the positive side of things, it isn't a winning decision.
"The restaurant business, I used to always say that it's flipping burgers, doing fifth-grade math, and being nice to people," Bachmann says. "It's a simple business, maybe that's why I'm qualified. But I think it's all about a passion for the business and I think that will come out. And I think that's going to help us drive interest in our business."