Along with revenue growth and sales per square foot, Noveshen says lead investors are most attracted to Starbird’s omni-channel model, or the ability to fulfill customers’ needs whether it’s through web/app, delivery, or on-premises dining.
Starbird's sales trends have proven just how important that model has become. The chain's ghost kitchens grew substantially throughout 2020 as Bay Area guests were restricted to off-premises more so than most of the country. Even as restaurants have reopened in 2021 and more options have come online, the chicken chain has held onto those sales for the most part. With the traditional streetside restaurants, the sales expansion has continued week over week, month over month, and quarter over quarter.
“The marketing has been huge, and the digital, which allows for frictionless experiences with our guests, is really a key to that component,” Noveshen says.
The digital ordering experience is what keeps customers. What draws them in, according to Noveshen, is a variety of product innovation and relevant food that no one else can provide. Starbird gives itself a lot of room for culinary creativity with a menu that includes tenders, sandwiches, tacos, wings, salads, and several house-made dipping sauces.
Starbird’s latest innovation is Thai-style chicken products covered in a hot, sweet, and sticky glaze and served with a spicy Thai herb aioli dipping sauce. The chain also created a green papaya slaw for its tender boxes, which Noveshen describes as “pretty cutting edge.” In the coming weeks the chain will launch a California menu highlighting Cali-style chicken tenders with spicy avocado, crema, cojita cheese, and pickled red onions. Additionally, restaurants will bake their own Dutch crunch bread for a Double Dutch Crunch Chicken Sandwich, and offer a California Roll Salad with avocado and wasabi vinaigrette.
The brand’s innovation is backed by the Culinary Edge, Noveshen’s global consultancy business based in San Francisco. Starbird leveraged the company’s resources to continue menu innovation despite the global pandemic.
“We never stopped innovating in the background, and then we did not suffer sales declines,” the CEO says. “That continued innovation and relevancy and ease and frictionless experience for our guests, it really, really helped us out.”
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The choice don’t end there, however. To maximize sales through off-premises channels, the chicken company has launched four virtual concepts—Starbird Wings, Starbird Salads, Starbird Bowls, and plant-based brand Gardenbird. The digital entities accounted for 16 percent of companywide sales in Q2. Noveshen says the virtual concepts have contributed a double-digit mix in brick-and-mortar stores and a more than 50 percent mix in ghost kitchens.
More virtual brands could be on the way as Starbird tests different ideas. How will those virtual concepts fit into future unit development plans? Noveshen says it’s a matter of balancing sales and complexity.
“As long as we can drive the sales and manage complexity, we envision certainly all company stores and company restaurants to have the virtual brands,” he says. “We don't know yet what that will mean on the franchise front. Likely there will be a way to earn the rights maybe to be able to launch the virtual brands. We want to make sure that the core is taken care of first.”