“By fostering an environment that encourages collaboration and open communication, we can leverage the collective expertise and diverse perspectives within our organization to achieve extraordinary results,” Kern wrote in a recent open letter to employees and franchisees. “I am truly honored and excited to lead this incredible team and look forward to a future filled with limitless possibilities.”
Kern’s interim tag was removed in mid-June. Kern, a “tequila guy,” celebrated and took a moment to feel relieved. Then, it was on to what’s next.
As wide-ranging as SPB’s portfolio today is—it also includes Merus Grill, Redlands Grill, Stoney River Steakhouse and Grill, Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery, Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant, ChopHouse & Brewery, Big River Grille & Brewing Works, AIA Ale Works Restaurant & Taproom, Ragtime Tavern Seafood & Grill, and Seven Bridges Grille & Brewery—there is a gap: fast casual.
Could SPB fill it? “We are in a unique position—to have breweries, to have upscale, casual, have [quick service], we’ve got our ghost kitchens that are still functioning out there in the marketplace,” he says. “And so, it is very unique in the landscape … That is part of the thesis that if there’s opportunities out there to look at some concepts, whether it’s a new concept that can add that shared-services metric to, and we can grow it, that’s more in our crosshairs versus taking a brand that needs revitalization. I think we’re good at that. It just takes a lot of time and energy and especially capital when you’re talking about reimaging restaurants, that’s the hardest part of this puzzle.”
Essentially, the answer is yes. SPB, Kern says, will grab another acquisition if the opportunity fits. It’s also focused on developing the present footprint.
Krystal, Logan’s, Old Chicago, J. Alexander’s and Stoney River, are “all poised for some opportunity for growth,” Kern says. J. Alexander’s has two locations slated to open this summer—one in Annapolis, Maryland, and another in Naples, Florida. SPB recently opened a Logan’s in Fort Myers, Florida, and Old Chicago will likely open Q1 next year in Denver. A franchise is headed just outside Atlanta in August.
There’s been some paring down in recent years of SPB’s overall footprint, Kern says, but it was mostly tied to real estate that’s moved on in terms of the trade area. “For us, we’re really looking now at where we can deploy the growth mechanism and how can we reimage restaurants,” he says, “like a Logan’s that’s been around for quite some time. We know with our dialed-up food quality and our operations on track that if we have a shiny new asset, then that’s the winning formular for sure.”
Franchising and refranchising, in general, is a topic Kern spoke about at the start of this CEO journey. He still feels strongly about it, even beyond Krystal’s ambitions (the 300-unit brand believes it can reach 500 locations). The pendulum is swinging in that direction. “The level of sophistication of some of the groups out there is really encouraging,” Kern says. “And I think it’s always that old adage that when a franchise group or a franchisee invests in a brand, they’re fundamentally a little bit closer to the trade area and knowing the market. So being able to provide them with a brand that has a strategy, that has a proverbial North Star, makes it even more attractive.”
He adds SPB is closing in on naming a chief development officer who will help with site selection and securing some growth partners. The company also appointed interim CFO Jessica Hagler permanent financial chief. She was the former VP, CFO, treasurer, and secretary of J. Alexander’s. SPB recently named Casey Terrell, a former Focus exec who was serving as CMO of Krystal, SPB’s CMO as well.