Industry News | July 25, 2016 | QSR Exclusive Brief

Is a Bigger Menu Better? This L.A. Fast Casual Thinks So

image used with permission.

Many a fast casual has been catapulted to success by doing one (or two) things really well. For Chipotle it was build-your-own burritos; Shake Shack perfected the nostalgic burger-shake combo; and sweetgreen cornered salads.

But Southern California concept The Stand is casting a wider net. Instead of concentrating on a single item or cuisine, the brand has developed a menu of more than 40 entrées.

“A lot of narrowly focused concepts have dumbed down their menu so much that it’s hard to get more than two people to agree to go to them sometimes unless it’s your once-a-month trip to Shake Shack or something like that,” says CEO and co-manager Murray Wishengrad. “We just felt that that strategy—although very common and certainly revered by customers and the financial marketplace—wasn’t what we wanted it to be.”

Instead, The Stand hopes to be a restaurant that customers will frequent multiple times a week, given its wide variety (burgers, sandwiches, salads, hog dogs, loaded fries, etc). A multitude of choices also reduces the chance of a veto vote, because, as Wishengrad points, out a party of five or six people could all eat a completely different meal.

Founded in 2003, The Stand was originally conceived as a burger and hot dog joint, but over the years, the business and menu grew. Wishengrad also brought his son Jason onboard as executive vice president and culinary director.

Today The Stand models its business not after its fast-casual peers, but rather the Cheesecake Factory, which boasts a menu that looks more like a short book rather than a list of food options.

“As a fast-casual restaurant, we’re acting a lot more like a casual-dining environment, which I think is key to being in the consideration loop at night,” Murray says. “I don’t want to go to a restaurant at night that looks like the old Baja Freshes, which is fine for lunch. ... The old Baja Fresh [is] real bright and sterile … but for dinner that’s not an asset.”

Although The Stand might look to the Cheesecake Factory for certain business components, it has also integrated local partnerships into its DNA. Beyond working with local vendors to source ingredients, The Stand has also collaborates with neighborhood brewers to create own signature beers.

For years it partnered with Firestone Walker Brewing Company, which produced a white label (unbranded) or honey-blonde ale for The Stand. Eventually that brew became highly marketable and Firestone rebranded it as the 805 Blonde Ale. The Stand found a new partner in Golden Road Brewing about four years ago. Today the Stand Blonde Ale is available at every store while a Stand Hefeweizen from Golden Road and a Stand IPA from Goose Island can be found at select stores.

“All the new stores moving forward will end up having probably three white-label beers,” says Jason Wishengrad. “It makes us unique. Any beer that we put our name on, we’re not going to go buy a beer from across the country. We want to look toward local beer brewers that we can partner with.”

As of now, The Stand has four locations, all located in suburban areas to the northwest of Los Angeles. Developers have approached the Wishengrads about opening a location in more urban areas like downtown LA and West Hollywood, but Murray says it’s not the right fit. In addition to office complexes, The Stand is targeting family-friendly areas. The plan is to eventually expand beyond Southern California, but for now, the Golden State still has room for saturation.

“We’re too young as a company to spread ourselves thin and there’s a lot of opportunity to leverage our brand in adjacent yet distinct markets,” Murray says.

“From a strategy standpoint, we’re eager to get out of Southern California … but it’s got to be the right moment.”

 

By Nicole Duncan

Comments

Those four locations are all in Los Angeles. L.A. uses postal zones for sections of the city. Century City, Woodland Hills, Encino and Northridge are not to the northwest of L.A. They are in the city itself. I should know, I worked in both Woodland Hills and Encino and went to college in Northridge.

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