The demographics are far-reaching, from families, to kids, high schoolers, and the solo business diner. Thomas says customers are attracted to the credibility of Viviani, who appeared on Bravo's Top Chef, and the nostalgia of his grandfather appearing in Wendy’s commercials.
Fresh Stack’s ethos is best described as coffeehouse meets burger joint.
“Our thought process behind creating that coffeehouse vibe was to inject the room with a lot of natural light and life, and the life being the plant walls that we carry in our locations, just to add that element of naturalness that sometimes gets forgotten in a traditional burger spot that could be often sterile and transactional and not really encouraging,” the cofounder says. “And it's fine. I mean that's what a lot want. You want to get as many butts in and out of seats as possible to turn the tables, which is great. But you know our philosophy is we love for our guests to hang out a little bit longer and when we see them hang out longer, that often results in higher check averages.”
Although Thomas wasn’t ready to reveal future sites, he did note that Fresh Stack plans to build more company-operated units in Illinois, and that it’s aggressively looking to solidify a fourth and fifth location. The chain also expects to franchise, a process the fast casual is ready for. All documentation is in order, and while the menu may seem large and complicated, many of the ingredients are cross-utilized. Thomas owes much of the streamlined operations to the strictness of COVID, which forced Fresh Stack to think on its feet and pivot repeatedly from the very beginning, like building a makeshift drive-thru in the parking lot.
Franchising wasn’t always the goal, but once the fast casual debuted, the chain received several inquiries from customers about potential ownership.
“We noticed a lot of those guests just observing and seeing how the operations worked,” Thomas says. “And when we got multiple dozens and dozens of inquiries to franchise, we're like, ‘well maybe we should get more aggressive on this.’ We had a really in-depth conversation and we were like, ‘OK let's go for it.' We just went through the process of getting our FDD and all that stuff in line and once we really feel the time’s right, we'll turn on the franchising and get that out there to the world.”
The initial restaurant in Kildeer is a 3,000-square-foot second-generation space, which is larger than what Fresh Stack will look for going forward. The sweet spot is between 2,000-2,500 square feet in markets that provide a solid mix of lunch and dinner traffic. The brand caters to a higher-income demographic, so it prefers like-minded co-tenants, such as Whole Foods and Target. The concept is mostly targeting suburban markets in the Greater Chicago area to avoid urban locales that have “A plus concepts everywhere,” Thomas says.
Thomas acknowledges the challenge of building a brand while being part of a family that founded one of the most successful fast-food brands in U.S. history. The key is reminding himself to remain focused on Fresh Stack’s long-term plan, which isn't to be the next Wendy’s. He’s never looked at it as a competition with his grandfather—it would be too stressful and unfulfilling. Thomas knows Fresh Stack isn’t the best fit in every U.S. market, whereas Wendy’s has more flexibility because of its value proposition.
However, the fast casual was founded on values championed by Dave Thomas—creating memorable experiences and turning the ordinary into extraordinary.
“Our philosophy is really to focus on quality and bringing great food to this concept,” Thomas says.