In 1986, the first Charleys location— operating at the time as Charley’s Steakery— opened its doors. Charley Shin, the brand’s founder and CEO, was still a student at The Ohio State University and worked at his mother’s restaurant. However, inspiration struck after he tasted his first Philly Cheesesteak on a family trip— Charley wanted to continue the family business, but sell the product that left an impression on his palette. His mother invested her life’s savings into the first Charleys’ store, operating near the University’s campus. Today, 35 years and many cheesesteaks later, over 600 locations around the world operate as Charleys Philly Steaks.
The next 35 years look to be quite exciting for the leading cheesesteak brand, adding close to 30 new locations in 2020, with plans to open over 100 locations in 2021. “We see a lot of opportunity to grow our brand. We will reach a thousand locations, and very soon,” says Brian Hipsher, Chief Marketing Officer.
These rapid growth plans represent a refresh in the brand’s overall approach to the business. Historically, Charleys was ubiquitous in the mall food court. Now Charleys is primarily expanding outside of mall food courts, driving higher sales performance with smart location decisions and a tuned-up concept which includes extended menu offerings, like chicken wings.
Charleys has also fully embraced digital sales by launching online ordering and an app-based loyalty program. In just a few short months the brand went from zero to over 250,000 loyalty members. In many stores, more than 25 percent of the business is now coming through digital channels.
“In the last 9 months, we’ve touched just about everything, including our core branding. In addition to launching online ordering and a mobile app, we’ve retooled our menu development process and new location opening playbook, added a reputation management platform, a social media content platform, gift cards, and a marketing analytics solution. The marketing, IT, development, and operations teams have been extremely busy creating the Charleys of the future – and the results of that hard work is already showing. Everything we do is focused on making our guests happy and ensuring the success of our franchisees. Now we have the data and systems to support our efforts to continually improve as we move into our next 35 years,” says Hipsher.
March 17th officially marks this milestone for Charleys. To celebrate the brand’s 35th Anniversary, everyone who visits Charleys and uses their Charleys Rewards app will receive a surprise offer to use on their next purchase. Additionally, 35 lucky guests who order on the anniversary will be selected to win free cheesesteaks for a year. The team at Charleys is looking forward to the next 35 years.