Allen Dikker is on a mission to change the way consumers think about potatoes. In December 2011, the former marketing pro opened the potato-peddling Potatopia at the Menlo Park Mall in Edison, New Jersey. In the 350-square-foot space, Potatopia serves up six signature potato-based creations, and guests can also customize a dish by selecting their choice of potato—smashed, baked, and au gratin among the nine choices—before topping it with vegetables, cheeses, proteins, and sauces.

Now Dikker is in expansion mode. He opened a Potatopia near the campus of New York University last August and is readying the launch of two additional outlets this summer, one in Staten Island and another at Jersey City’s Newport Center.

Dikker discusses Potatopia’s founding and how the flagship store’s early success propelled the brand’s development.

How did Potatopia come to be?

It began when I started making sauces from scratch. I wanted to get into the restaurant business, but realized I needed something to put the sauces on. It seemed that burgers and sausages had been done, so I thought about other carbs and starches. The potato seemed the perfect vehicle. It’s versatile and one of the world’s largest crops, which provides mass appeal. I felt there was a market for the potato if I presented it in a different, compelling way.

What important insights did the first store provide?

When we opened at the Menlo Park Mall, our name was not in the directory, and we were not on the map, which gave me the opportunity to see if the concept could stand on its own. If it could sustain itself in that environment, I thought, then I’d have something. In our first year to our second year, we saw 44 percent growth in sales. That gave me the confidence to move forward.

What early challenges did you face?

The biggest and most challenging part has been educating the consumer. From the name, people understand we serve potatoes, but that’s it. Fortunately, we’ve found that it’s a one-time experience. Whether people view our product as a snack, a side, or a meal, they come once, eat, and understand.

What’s next for Potatopia?

We have signed franchise deals and the goal is to have about 50 stores within the next five years. We could blow up the concept right now, but we want to be meticulous. Before opening our New York City restaurant, we looked at 45 locations before choosing the one we felt worked best. It’s that attention to detail that will position each store and the concept for long-term success.

Emerging Concepts, Fast Casual, Growth, Story, Potatopia