A second location, positioned about 8.5 miles from the Gardena store, is planned for Long Beach, California, inside a former Waba Grill restaurant. The location is standalone and includes a drive-through, which will be a preference for Mom’s Touch going forward considering what’s happened during COVID, says Kim.
Drive-thru increased visits 4 percent year-over-year in 2021 and held the largest share of off-premises sales at 52 percent. As part of its 2021 Restaurant Franchise Pulse survey, TD Bank found 45 percent of operators plan to provide additional drive-thru locations.
Another inline restaurant will open in City of Industry, California, in a former Subway store, and is expected to debut before the end of 2022. The third Mom’s Touch location will be neighbors to a drive-thru Waba Grill unit.
Kim says these first few stores will be company-owned. After learnings are gleaned and operations are smoothed over, the plan is to franchise the brand—first in Southern California, then the rest of the state, and eventually eastward.
The CEO has received interest from Waba Grill franchisees, who’ve had plenty of success in recent years. The chain’s same-store sales in 2021 jumped 27.5 percent compared to 2019 and AUV reached nearly $900,000. Three stores opened in 2021, and the 200th restaurant is planned for this year. The rice bowl concept was named to QSR’s Best Franchise Deals in 2021.
However, Kim is consciously trying to temper expectations as the company cultivates Mom’s Touch. Before franchising is even organized, the first objective is to show the corporate units are viable and will generate sales.
“If given the opportunity, if we had a good standing franchisee, an existing franchisee of Waba with appropriate organization and resources taking interest, of course we would certainly look to them to build Mom's Touch stores,” Kim says. “We're keeping things open, but we're really not going to push the agenda out to them. That's certainly something that we’re cautious about because we want to respect what they do currently, and if they want to continue to build Waba stores, we’ll certainly encourage them to do that.”
Mom’s Touch is hoping to join the momentum experienced by other Asian-based quick serves growing in the U.S. For instance, Bonchon—also founded in South Korea—has grown to 115 stores in the U.S. and plans to open 30 more in 2022. Additionally, Filipino fast-food chain Jollibee has more than 1,400 stores across the globe, and hopes to build its North American presence to 300 locations by 2024.
Kim acknowledges chicken has become a crowded field, but that doesn’t shake his confidence about what Mom’s Touch could be come in the U.S.
"Our flavors are very bold—some say more on the spicy side,” Kim says. “And it offers distinctive and different, but extremely pleasant flavors that customers will enjoy. We believe that makes us competitive in this wild market right now, and we intend to be here and growing for a long time to come.”