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Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill
Smart but Steady
Garbanzo may be the baby of the list this year, but it’s not an amateur by any means. Under the leadership of Alon Mor, who spent eight years working with Panera Bread’s Ken Rosenthal, the Colorado-based chain has loads of industry knowledge.
There’s also the fact that launching a brand in the middle of the worst recession in decades can toughen up even the youngest of brands. “Everybody asks us how it is to operate in a recession environment,” Mor says. “I’ve always said, ‘We don’t know any better.’”
With 14 company-owned locations under its belt, the concept launched a franchise program earlier this year and plans to break into the D.C./Baltimore market over the next two years. Mor says deals are also in place for more than 10 additional markets—San Antonio being one—in the near future.
However, Mor says the brand, which celebrated its fifth birthday with a Kabobs launch this summer, wants to grow strategically, not quickly. “It’s about growing smart,” he explains. “We have no reason not to be on the same path as the other fast casuals.”
Rewriting the Golden Rule
For some industry execs, a passion for food just isn’t enough. That’s why Boloco CEO John Pepper switched his focus to people—his people.
By offering progressive employee benefits—health and dental plans, matching 401(k)s, and transportation discounts, along with higher pay rates so employees can actually take advantage of these great offers—the Boston-based burrito chain has turned the golden rule on its head.
“We switched it to say, ‘Do unto others as they would have you do unto them,’” Pepper explains.
To apply that concept to consumers, it rewarded 15 years of loyalty by hosting an “18 Days of Free Burritos” event in February in partnership with the Life is Good organization, raising more than $27,000 for underprivileged children. The brand hosted another free burrito promotion in June to raise money for the Norris Cotton Cancer Center in New Hampshire. “It really isn’t about getting presents,” Pepper says about Boloco’s milestone, “but about giving presents.”
East Coast Meets West
Cheesesteaks may be the unofficial sandwich of “The City of Brotherly Love,“ but thanks to California-based Philly’s Best, West Coast diners can have an authentic cheesesteak, too.
Founded in 1992 by husband-and-wife team Andrea and Bob Levey, the brand now boasts more than 25 locations, 18 of them franchised. The Philadelphia-bred couple aim to deliver a true Philly experience, from the genuine Amoroso rolls sourced straight from Philadelphia to the posters of Philly landmarks that adorn the walls and the Eagles games that air through the NFL season. “It’s not just food,” Andrea Levey says. “It’s really a feeling. It’s an experience.”
To celebrate 20 years, the company launched a “Hoagie Jam” promotion, offering hoagies for just $5 to fans through direct mail and Facebook. It’s also rolling out a line of Philly’s Fresh Neighborhood salads—named after areas in the Leveys’ home city—and introducing pastrami this month. “It’s exciting to give people a taste of home,” Bob Levey says.
From Zero to Hero
For a brand that’s hitting the quarter-century mark with 60 units in tow, it’s hard to believe that, until five years ago, Tasti was basically roaming free. When the company was purchased in 2007, CEO Jim Amos says, “there was nothing. We had to hire the staff, we had to create the training and operating manuals, we had to build the franchising system.”
Since then, the dessert brand has been on the move, acquiring Planet Smoothie in 2011. In March, it signed an agreement for 30 new units in the Middle East and, in May, popped up in Walmarts around the country.
On September 7, Tasti will offer 25-cent cups and cones to celebrate what New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg named “Tasti D-Lite Day.” “It’s a fun product,” Amos says, noting the brand’s cult following in Manhattan. “It puts a smile on people’s faces, and it’s great to be a part of.”
Freebirds World Burrito
The King of Choices
While many brands boast about menu variety, Freebirds has the numbers to back it up—2.2 trillion, in fact. That’s the amount of possible burrito combinations the brand’s fans can create from the range of Freebirds’ made-in-house ingredients.
“The whole idea is to celebrate this freedom of choice,” says Jeff Carl, chief marketing officer for the 80-unit, Texas-based chain. “Ours is explosive in the number of choices that you have.”
More customers can now cash in on this variety thanks to Freebirds’ first franchise deal with Tavistock Restaurants in March, which set out plans to open 27 units in Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri.
Freebirds will ring in its anniversary this fall by giving special offers to its
more than 250,000 “Freebird Fanatics” and 120,000-plus Facebook fans. “This
is a celebration for those who are truly part of us,” Carl says.
The Flavor of Success
One of life’s biggest dilemmas—cookies or cake—was laid to rest in June 1997, when Atlanta-based cookie and brownie brand Great American Cookies developed its iconic cookie cake.
While many flavor favorites, like Original Chocolate and Peanut Butter Supreme, have stood the test of time, brand director Dave Kaiser says it’s the company’s ever-expanding menu that keeps customers coming back for more. That’s why the brand introduced a Reese’s Peanut Butter brownie this year and brought back the popular Domino cookie, a dark chocolate cookie with white chocolate chunks.
But flavors aren’t the only thing on the dessert brand’s mind. With more than 300 locations in the U.S. and abroad, Great American Cookies has immediate plans to open stores in additional markets like Puerto Rico and the Caribbean Islands.
The chain celebrated its 35th birthday with the launch of its first-ever food truck in Houston and hosted “Super Cookie Cake Celebration” events at franchised locations.
In exchange for donations to nonprofit organizations, guests received a slice of giant cookie cake (below).