Bryn Davis didn’t need to climb the mountain to survey the landscape. Even when he had just a single smoothie shop, funded by $12,000 he earned working on his grandfather’s farm, Davis believed his healthy, fast-food concept could number in the thousands, from coast to coast, in big cities, small towns, and everything along the way. Recently, Davis took a small but critical step toward turning that vision into a reality.
In late January, his concept, BRYN+DANE's, which started as a boardwalk wrap shack six years ago, announced it inked a deal with Kitchen Fund and the famed Fransmart to open a minimum of 100 locations. The key word there is minimum.
Depending on the response, this deal could easily hit four figures. And if the brief history of the Pennsylvania-based restaurant is any indication, even that could just be a precursor to something far more reaching.
“Overall, I would say the first five years of running BRYN+DANE's is hands down, without a shred of doubt, the most stressful and trying period in my life. More than I ever thought was even possible,” Davis says. “That being said, the reason it was so stressful, and I can be honest about this, is that we’ve been blessed with a few things. One is that whenever we open our doors, every time, it’s really busy. And that’s a huge relief. It showed us the potential of what we could become.”
Given that Davis’ vision has always been focused with a big-picture lens, he understood, even as the concept grew to a café, then a catering arm, stand inside a YMCA, and finally a brick-and-mortar store in Plymouth Meeting, that raising and ushering in capital was going to have to be done smartly. There are three corporate locations coming shortly—Bryn Mawr, Malvern, and Philadelphia. But reaching his target of 3,000 stores could never follow this path, and Davis wasn’t delusional about that fact.
“Could I have brought on a partner this year that solved all of our money problems? Brought in a couple of million bucks? And own half of the company and we could grow that way? Sure. But it’s short sighted. Because eventually we’re going to need more money if we want to get to 3,000, 4,000 locations,” he says.
This is where he’s tackled “the biggest challenge of my life.” The concept, which is a combination of Davis’ and his younger brother’s names, was founded on the idea of delivering healthy food quickly, at an affordable price. Just don’t call it fast casual. BRYN+DANE's is a fast-foot restaurant that serves things like banana wraps and chia pudding bowls without a $10 price tag in sight.
“When people think of fast food, and we embrace that title, I think that differentiates us from our competition—the fact we embrace that title. We’re fast food. We’re not quick service. We’re not fast casual,” he says. “I want to be fast food. And there’s definitely a perception with that. When you think of fast food you think of drive thrus and cheap. And that’s an amazing thing. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Davis spent “hours a day for honestly years” thinking about how to grow. Do they traverse the private equity route or take the franchise path? The latter turned out to be the ideal option. Once that moment clicked, Davis sat down and charted a dream list of partners. At the top? Dan Rowe and Fransmart, the team that turned Five Guys and Qdoba into national giants.
Rowe hopped on a jet and flew over to visit. He toured the brand’s locations and came away impressed. A mutual deal was reached and the future began to take shape.
BRYN+DANE's reached an agreement that requires the company to give up zero corporate equity. The expansion will be funded entirely through splits of franchise fees and royalties, which allows BRYN+DANE's to continue opening corporate stores as it sees fit. This sets Davis’ brand up nicely if they decide to consider a public offering down the line.
Of course, being that BRYN+DANE's is still, even with a juggernaut partner, a small operation, the idea of growing this quickly requires logistical foresight.
One of the leading elements here, and undeniably something Fransmart found appealing, is BRYN+DANE's track record as a tech-savvy restaurant.
Davis has always believed in making the experience easy and streamlined for guests, and that flows into the franchise system as well. At the heart is the touch-screen ordering system that can be controlled from a central corporate location.
This way, whenever the team recognizes a new product coming to market, they can insert it into the system immediately. Forget printing new menus for 3,000 stores. That can now be altered by touching a single button.
“Now in terms of exerting control over individual franchisees moving forward, we’ve set ourselves up for a pretty unique opportunity in terms controls on a restaurant level,” he says. “We update one computer system and everything that’s on a digital screen on the wall, a touchscreen menu or projection, is updated in real time. So we’re really going to allow our franchisees to focus on running a restaurant and not on being a great company. We’ll do that.”
This agility allows BRYN+DANE's to quickly adjust to evolving customer demand.
“People’s eating habits change. What they think is healthy now and what’s going to be healthy in 10 years might not be the same thing. What’s trendy right now might not be trendy in 10 years,” Davis says. “So you see a short life cycle for restaurants. I like the idea of creating a restaurant that’s digital so we can change with the consumer demand. We’re never going to be antiquated. We’re never going to be out of relevance because as new products come onto the scene we can implement them quickly.”
Where BRYN+DANE's is headed comes down to, yet again, the broad scope. If the restaurant wants to hit 3,000 locations it can’t just circle prime-time cities and try to carve out real estate in bustling markets. In fact, Davis sees the reverse path as a more viable one.
“When we talk about which cities we’re going to go to next and what our strategy for growth is, I’m not rushing to the top five cities. Unless it’s a ridiculous deal, we don’t need to go there,” he says. “Rather than New York, I’d rather go to Nashville. Rather than Chicago, I’d rather go to Austin [Texas]. Those are the markets that we’re going to look at first.”
Davis says one of the reasons BRYN+DANE's has been so successful is his narrow focus, and his passion. He doesn’t have the desire or aspiration to work on any other project. Unlike some entrepreneurs, growing and cashing out is not part of his business DNA.
“I really get excited and very passionate about building BRYN+DANE's as big as it can get, and doing this for my life,” he says. “… I don’t object to eventually giving up control to BRYN+DANE's. Someday it will eventually outgrow me. And I believe in BRYN+DANE's more than my ability to lead it. I’m OK with that. But right now, that’s not the time.”