Ever since taking the gig, Burmer says he’s studied regional restaurant groups that made it and those that went sideways. Essentially, which iconic, beloved brands left their markets and became something they’re not; and which stayed true to their principles. In-N-Out and Chick-fil-A are two aspirations he holds up.
“In-N-Out announced about two years ago that they’re coming into the Nashville market,” Burmer says. “They announced that, but then they didn’t even plan to open their first store three years from that time so they could make sure that infrastructure was there and that supply chain was ready to go. You’ve got to be patient.”
Lion’s Choice has a couple of franchisees in the system but isn’t actively pursuing. Not yet at least. Naturally, with his background, Burmer is looking into it. And like Chick-fil-A and its deliberate history, the approach is as much about who Lion’s Choice wants to work with as the markets and foundations. “We plan on doing the same thing,” he says of being selective with franchisees. “One of the things that we’ve been talking about a lot internally is, I think it’s important, if we want to get smaller franchisees who have a passion for the brand, which again, is another component you see with the successful franchises that are out there. Even if you look at the Yum! Brands, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, KFC, they all started with, in Pizza Hut’s case, a couple of brothers in Wichita, Kansas, and they started franchising to a few people who had a passion for that brand, nice and slow and it grew into the behemoth that they are today.”
“And I think we want to be able to do the same thing.”
Burmer has begun to explore ways to make the opportunity attractive from both ends. For instance, working to cost-engineer a building, from dirt to materials, that comes under the typical $2 million-plus facilities out there today.
Broadly, Lion’s Choice is tackling two key priorities before it dives into life as a franchisor. One is making sure it shores up company operations to where it’s role modeling what it wants franchisees to be able to do, Burmer says. It also needs to update ops manuals and things of that nature to ensure there’s a consistent playbook. “Right now, some of the procedures that we have are not as consistent as I’d like to see them from restaurant to restaurant,” he says. “So we’re working through tweaking those. That’s not a big project but it’s a very important project before you can really start licensing to people.”
At least initially, Burmer sees smaller franchisees entering the fold—those looking to take a smaller bite than, say, institutional investors. And Lion’s Choice would rather deal with individuals as it evolves for the long-term as well. Yet viewing a wider goal, Burmer imagines something closer to Domino’s early approach, where it scaled by providing opportunities to managers with entrepreneurial dreams. “We haven’t finalized any of that,” Burmer says, noting it’s still infant days. “But that’s what’s kind of bubbling up right now from my vision.”
But going back to the opening thought, the horizon for Burmer concerns what’s right in front of him. Lion’s Choice’s organic growth won’t necessarily come from its assets; it’s going to be sales and traffic and the amplification of the brand. His goal will be to dial up marketing and advertising and focus on the quality of the chain’s roast beef.
“It kind of bugs me that we’re not really necessarily getting credit from the customer in terms of the quality of it,” he says. “People come in and go, ‘man, this is awesome.’ But we want to make sure we set ourselves apart from any other roast beef concept that’s out there in terms of quality. That’s our No. 1 mission.”