Gregg Majewski is 47 years old and 26 of those have been spent as a C-suite executive of a restaurant company. He believes it’s the longest such run in the game, which began when he was 21. But that’s not to say Majewski is ready for a change of pace. “I don’t go to work,” he says. “It’s hard to explain that to people. I go in and have the best time.”
These days, the former Jimmy John’s CEO is heading up multi-concept platform Craveworthy Brands. The second project in asset management company FG Financial’s merchant banking division, Craveworthy began with four concepts—Wing It On, Krafted Burger + Tap, Budlong Hot Chicken, and Lucky Cat Poke Company. It also now comprises legacy brands Genghis Grill, BD’s Mongolian Grill, and Flat Top Grill, which came fully into the fold when Majewski, who had joined as Mongolian Concepts’ CEO in spring 2021, bought out the company in April. That expanded Majewski’s portfolio to 90-plus stores across 25 states, with 40-plus more in development.
As quickly as Craveworthy entered the picture, however, it’s an organization defined by the wider picture, Majewski explains. “Whoever is in a top spot in any company, your job is to be the dreamer,” he says. “If you don’t always dream bigger than you think you can, then nobody is going to get motivated to go wherever you want to go.”
Craveworthy’s dartboard today projects $1 billion in systemwide sales within roughly five years. To get there, it’s going to take a combination of internal franchise growth, brand expansion broadly, and acquisitions. On that latter note, like many angles Majewski takes, Craveworthy won’t follow the worn path. In late April, the company announced intentions to raise as much as $25 million by placing a call for investors on its website. Craveworthy offered Class A units at $2 per share in a private placement, asking for a minimum of $5,000.
Majewski admits that strategy was never going to be an overnight switch. But like the systemwide sales target, “you have to put what your first goal is to keep it open,” he says. Simply, you’ve got to start somewhere, and it might as well not be small.
Why $25 million? It’s a number Majewski says would support three major acquisitions in the next two years.
General industry feedback to the raise has been “hit or miss,” he says. Yet the reaction from investors and interested parties was always engaged. “We’ve gotten incredible traction,” he says. “Not a lot of money in it [yet] because we couldn’t take money as fast as that news hit. Some of the processes that we thought were done, weren’t done. But we’re in a position now to start inquiring and taking and closing on the people who have shown interest.”
“We’ve got thousands and thousands of people who are asking for more information and wanting to be a part of it,” Majewski continues.
Presently, it’s a matter of picking partners and deciding who to grow with. Majewski, as mentioned, is trying to navigate the process from a fresh perspective. He’s an open-book executive who believes in a flat organization versus a top-down one. If you have an opinion, Majewski wants to hear it. And he’ll never curb ambition because he doesn’t step half-hearted into anything.
“Most of the time when you go in and you’re part of a company, you never know the whole story,” he says. “And you never know what leaders are thinking at the organization. And I don’t know how to act that way. That kind of excitement is contagious. Because the more people know and the more people hear, why wouldn’t you want to take a gamble on us?”
Krafted Burger + Tap is a good case. Majewski, Chef Robert Kabakoff, and their wives, created the menu in Majewski’s home kitchen. It’s personal.
Overall, the framework of Craveworthy draws a visible blueprint for growth. Budlong Hot Chicken, which was acquired last September and began franchising in mid-April 2023, took in 1,200 leads in the first month, Majewski says. “That’s the brand that has the most potential to grow at the fastest point,” he says. It can be built in 1,200-square-foot boxes for as little as $55,000 in second-gen spaces.
“I want us all to win. And the only way you can do that is if you lead by your values and the heart that you have. That’s the part of the culture that we are defined by.”
Lucky Cat Poke Company debuted its first brick-and-mortar August in Chicago’s Oakbrook suburb. Majewski says it can reach 55 virtual kitchen units by year’s end and then open up to the company’s franchisee base.
Majewski spent two or so years revamping the Mongolian brands, starting by differentiating them after previous direction worked toward harmonizing them. They now stand up on their own, he says, and Genghis Grill, in particular, has a niche as the only brand at scale capable of enabling a customer to pick their ingredients and watch them get cooked to order. The chain’s new prototype slashed the box from 5,000 to 2,100 square feet and trimmed the dining area from 97 to 50 seats. It’s also designed so one employee can operate during non-peak hours (compared to four in the old model). The prototype features a new to-go staging and pickup area with cubbies, plus curbside parking spots. In a dynamic Majewski continually preaches, the decision reduced build costs from $815,000 to about $400,000. Check out more on the new design here.
Craveworthy sold 24 deals last year to grow the brand and hopes to double that this calendar if all goes accordingly.
Wing It On! CEO Matt Ensero remained as president with that specific deal. Craveworthy provided him tools to turn passion into tangible, sustained results.
So what begins to unfold has a few buckets. Craveworthy will continue to create concepts, which Majewski, who saw Jimmy John’s scale from 30 to 300 units, says is “in my DNA.”
“Also,” he adds, “if I don’t do it, there will be certain parts of me that are left to die.”
The company will then invest in founder-led brands it feels can benefit from shared scale and expertise. And, likely to a lesser extent, Craveworthy, as shown with Mongolian, can continue to inject life into established chains.
Majewski says a breakfast concept is coming, as is a pizza-pasta brand that can dive into a whitespace home to few established counter-service players.
In terms of legacy brands Craveworthy might acquire, Majewski says he’s got no shortage of options or people who want to move forward. He generally feels every brand “gets three humps.” Meaning, it can be turned around once and succeed. But if it needs to rinse and repeat after that, he doesn’t want to make the bet.
“I like people who are coming out of the second and have two more chances to get it right,” he says.
With emerging concepts, like Wing It On!, Craveworthy wants to link with invested leaders who need guidance to reach the next step. “I want people who live and die by what they’re doing,” Majewski says, “who love what they’re doing, are energetic about what they’re doing, and can sit there and tell me stories about why they do things that I can get excited about.”
“What they’re missing is what I want to provide them,” he adds, “which is the leadership and the guidance and the tools and access to the people they can’t have on their own.”
Speaking of people, Cravworthy’s corporate team has swelled into the upper 20s, with some big names coming into the fold of late. Twenty-year industry vet Jeremy Theisen joined as chief growth and development officer in June after stints at FAT Brands (chief growth officer) and PathSpot (chief revenue officer). Kim DeCarolis, also most recently with FAT Brands, then came on in July as SVP of strategic growth. Her prior stops include PathSpot, SevenRooms, and Punchh. Former Yum! Brands CEO Greg Creed joined the board in late July as well.
And more high-profile hires are coming, Majewski hints.
“I never understood how we always struggle to find people you want to build your team around,” Majewski says of the larger industry. “And if you treat people right over the course of time, your team forms and people want to work for you. That’s the same thing with leading with your heart and doing what you’re going to say you’re going to do, and why I’m in the position to get the people I want to get—because they all know I’m going to do what I say I’m going to do.”
Taking a step back, much of Majewski’s views on leadership, franchising, and running successful concepts, owes to the initial point—the fact he was thrown into the C-suite fire. If those lessons at Jimmy John’s didn’t weather his experience, Majewski says, “I don’t know if I would have had the backbone and the knowledge to get through it.”
“That is part of what I am trying to do—is part of what I was first taught,” he says. “I truly believe that if the company is going to be successful and accomplish what I want it to, you better lead with your heart. It’s OK if you make mistakes. And it’s OK if not everything is a home run. But you better stay true to the values: I want to help people and I want to help my team and my company, and everybody who gets involved, our vendors, everyone. I want us all to win. And the only way you can do that is if you lead by your values and the heart that you have. That’s the part of the culture that we are defined by.”
It all weaves through Craveworthy’s character as a franchisor. Majewski says he’s seen too many brands make calls for dollar-driven, nearsighted reasons. “I’ve always said, franchisors make decisions that make them more money,” he says. “And very rarely do they look at what will be best for my franchisee.”
Majewski says the Craveworthy formula isn’t complex: if franchisees are successful, they’ll open more stores. If they’re not, the company will try to fix it long-term versus slapping duct tape to a leak. “Just building that top-line and not building the rest of your franchisee’s portfolio on the bottom line, you’re not fair to them,” he says. “I can build top-line all day just by discounts and everything else to drive that number up so I make more money. If my franchisee is losing money and I’m making more money, I’m a bad franchisor.”
“That’s forgotten right now,” Majewski notes. “You can look at every major group out there and they’re driving their top-line sales up by discounts. And franchisees aren’t making more money by doing that. I refuse to do that.”
Returning to the Mongolian example, Majewski isn’t asking operators to build Taj Mahals, he says. He won’t make them drain the coffers for a certain look if they can get a better ROI adjusting to a second-gen space.
Majewski sits on both sides of the equation. He’s continued to build his Wildcat Investments franchise vehicle over the years, which still runs a collection of Jimmy John’s.
And Craveworthy, until it reaches 300 locations, plans to operate 10 percent or more of every concept it directs. Majewski says, for any brand he buys, it’s a good bet he’s going to own one himself.
Majewski adds he wants every employee and operator at Craveworthy to have a seat at the table. “This is not my company, it’s our company,” he says. “I live that every day. … Usually, egos get in the way, and I don’t have one. The people who work for me can’t have one, either. And that’s how we’ll build this. It’s important to me because that’s how I got my opportunity. If we were in a hierarchy type of system, I never would have got the chance I did.”
Nobody thought he’d get Jimmy John’s where he did, when there were 700 units sold at exit, Majewski says. They didn’t think he’d be where he is now as well. And he’ll continue that track record at Craveworthy. “We have our lofty goals and we have our dreams,” he says. “And we’re going to hit them.”