Raising Cane’s is no stranger to the five-year plan. In early 2016, the chicken finger chain had just wrapped up a year at $500 million in sales, 290 locations, and a shade over $2 million in average-unit volumes. It was a bold crystal ball: Triple the size of the company in the next 60 months and reach $1.5 billion.
Raising Cane’s “stoutly” did so, co-CEO AJ Kumaran recalls. It finished 2021 at $1.711 billion and $3.85 million AUVs.
But forecasting soon spun sideways. Kumaran was in Cancun when he made the call to cancel Raising Cane’s next large-scale meeting, where it planned to celebrate those marks and announce the next five years. It was one of the first big chains to shutter a major conference due to COVID-19. So Raising Cane’s never did announce a five-year outline to follow the previous one.
In that pause, however, Kumaran and co-CEO and founder Todd Graves began to think broader. “Why bind ourselves to time?” Kumaran says. “Let’s be more aspirational. Let’s think about our business long, long, long term. We’re not going anywhere.”
That’s where Raising Cane’s idea of “Timeless Horizon” was devised. While this direction doesn’t segment progress in five-year blocks like the old model, it’s no less ambitious. Raising Cane’s closed 2021 with sales of $2.37 billion, AUVs of $4.893 million, and 567 locations. From 2019 to 2021, the brand added a net of 167 locations and watched units start making nearly $1.3 million more per store. That AUV, Kumaran says, is now $5.5 million. And the top-line is roughly $3.5 billion.
READ MORE: Raising Cane's Founder Todd Graves is on a Journey to Inspire
The brand’s goal is take that number and triple it in the next few years. To Kumaran’s point, it’s a wide aim versus a dart. “I think it’ll be somewhere around seven years when we get there,” he says. “But it’s about more than time; it’s about the aspiration to get there.”
AUVs, Kumaran adds, project to reach $8 million systemwide by the end of that track. That would put Raising Cane’s in line with where Chick-fil-A’s freestanding drive-thru locations sit currently.
The picture materializes something like this: 1,500 locations and $10 billion in systemwide sales. “I’m well aware of the challenges but I’m excited about it. I think we can nail this,” Kumaran says.
Only seven restaurant brands in America eclipsed $10 billion in systemwide sales at the end of 2021 (McDonald’s: $45.96B; Starbucks: $24.3B; Chick-fil-A: $16.7B; Taco Bell: $12.6B; Wendy’s: $11.1B; Dunkin’: $10.4B; and Burger King: $10.03B).
But taking sight at rare air isn’t something Raising Cane’s shies from. And if anybody doubts the prospect, Kumaran and Graves are used to that, too.
This is the same brand whose original business plan earned Graves the lowest grade in his college class (the professor didn’t believe chicken fingers would sell in South Louisiana). Banks didn’t buy in, either. So Graves traveled to California to work as a boilermaker in an oil refinery before boarding an Alaskan salmon boat in 1995. He raised enough money to open a restaurant named after his yellow lab that nobody else seemed to believe in.
As those prior numbers illustrate, skeptics are long vanquished. Yet what will it take to go from a thriving, logic-defying enterprise to a top 10 restaurant brand in the nation?
“It’s about what truly matters,” Kumaran says. “What’s the purpose of the business? And, obviously, we are very competitive. We are goals oriented. There will be facts, figures, and numbers that we track throughout the journey. But, ultimately, we do this all for people during the whole evolution that we made.”
A few weeks ago, Raising Cane’s gathered 2,300 employees, leaders, and vendors, for the first time since that 2016 meeting. In addition to presenting a blueprint, the company unveiled a host of initiatives designed to “build a foundation for one of the most respected and high-performing restaurant businesses in the industry,” Kumaran says.
It began, as it often does for Raising Cane’s, with people. Before the gathering, the brand was coming off a two-year stretch where it added more than $200 million in wage increases and introduced a Restaurant Partner Program that could turn GMs into millionaires. The chain bought 50,000 lottery tickets in case the Mega Millions jackpot hit, which it then planned to distribute to workers. Raising Cane’s didn’t furlough or lay off a single worker at the onset of COVID. It instead distributed $2 million in bonuses to account for hours some employees relinquished so everyone could stay employed. The brand sent 10 GMs on all-expense paid trips to Hawaii; bolstered educational benefits, and bumped tuition reimbursement to $5,250 per year.
It was one of only three restaurant brands named to Forbes’ “Best Employers for New Grads” and one of only four hospitality companies to be on Glassdoor’s “100 Best Places to Work in the U.S,” as well as a QSR Best Brand to Work For.
Graves, named a Top CEO by Glassdoor in 2019, has often credited Raising Cane’s culture to his own unlikely story and perspective to pay it forward.
At this year’s meeting, here’s a snapshot of what was shared:
- Weekly pay checks for all employees
- All hourly managers moving to $18 per hour minimum pay (average $19.50/or roughly a $9 million investment)
- Opportunity for hourly workers to make $2 more per hour within the first 12 months of employment
- In addition to above, providing $2 training premiums for all crew who lead training for new crew members
- Also, the opportunity to earn an additional $1 through advanced crew certifications
- Premium pay across the system for times where the brand needs employees the most: $1 for any time worked past 10 p.m., and $1 for any major event
- A new certified traveling trainer program is designed to send tenured, experience crew at all levels (crew to restaurant leader) to new areas to support company growth
- The ability for employees to live in a new city rent free for 3–6 months, in addition to other pay additions
- The first group of this program was selected and will be going to New York City—10 restaurant leaders from across the country are going to live in the Big Apple to support a market launch
- Increasing monthly incentive for all salaried leaders by about 25 percent
- Creating two new layers in Raising Cane’s management structure: instantly adding more than 300 management job opportunities for crew and future crew
- With the Restaurant Partner Program, Raising Cane’s announced an initiative where it will pay $10,000 toward closing costs for restaurant leaders who purchase their first-time home
- And lastly, in the past 26 years, Raising Cane’s has given back $100 million to communities. Kumuran says the brand will now do the same, but in just six or seven years