The Freeman, Spogli & Co. deal came in 2016 and kick started City Barbeque’s expansion into North Carolina, where it now has eight restaurants. Freeman is the same company that bought First Watch in 2011 and invested $45 million in El Pollo Loco 12 years ago. There were 26 City Barbeque locations at the time, meaning the concept has blossomed 61 percent in three years.
Malir, who famously started by brining chickens in his garage, says the company has stayed on a yearly 20–22 percent growth path. “But now we’re really at this inflection point of we’re not just a regional brand anymore,” he says. “We’re going to other areas, other parts of the country. But as we do that, we want to always maintain the scratch kitchen, the cooked on-site barbecue, the pitmasters that we have in each location.”
Muldoon was an ideal fit to get there, Malir says, because he’s not a growth for the sake of growth kind of executive. He bought into the culture at City Barbeque and everything that came along with it. A key part being the artisan approach and just how difficult that can be to maintain and sustain during expansion.
City Barbeque doesn’t franchise, and doesn’t plan to. Corporate controls all aspects of every opening. “I hate to say we’re very genuine because then it doesn’t sound like we’re genuine,” Malir says with a laugh. “But we go in and we instruct our teams, you are going to be part of this community. And that’s everything from the wage levels, from how we try to hire to how we pay our teams, all the way to the various charities and the organizations that we embrace. And we believe that’s the core of who we are.”
Insights platform TDn2K recently awarded City Barbeque its 2019 Best Practices Award in the fast-casual segment. The Columbus CEO has named the chain its best employer, in any industry, for three years running.