There’s no doubt that better-burger brand Mooyah Burgers, Fries & Shakes is making some big “moo-ves” in the industry. In the first half of the year alone, the chain experienced a 10 percent unit increase, while at the same time granting 26 additional franchises stateside and three internationally. A total of 16 units are slated to open by year’s end in states like Oklahoma, Arkansas, and New Jersey, bringing the brand’s store count to 70.

Although Mooyah has doubled in size each of the last several years, president and CEO Bill Spae will be the first to say that this rate of growth isn’t sustainable.

Instead, the brand is looking at how to scale the brand responsibly and profitably for all parties involved, all while providing support to new and existing franchisees, he says. In an attempt to streamline the brand’s growth plans and cover all of its bases, Spae and his team at Mooyah have developed a five-pillar strategy.

“It’s sort of a waterfall approach,” Spae says. “If you don’t do the first one, you can’t do the second. If you don’t do No. 1 and No. 2, you can’t get to No. 3.”

The first pillar involves operational excellence and ensuring that each unit is operating at a consistently high standard during every shift, every day. “If we’re not operating at a high standard, pleasing the guests, every shift every day, then we’re going to have to stop there until we get that right.”

Next comes franchisee profitability, which—because he’s been a franchisee himself—Spae says is “near and dear” to him. “You don’t grow unless your franchisees are profitable,” he says.

Third, the brand focuses on sustainable and profitable growth. Spae says many players in the limited-service segment often talk about growth in terms of unit counts, whether it’s 100 or 1,000 locations. “You don’t hear them talking about the sustainability of that, and you don’t hear them talk about how profitable it will be,” he says. “And usually that’s because they can’t gauge that. … When you try to grow to that level of restaurants, no matter how big you are, it’s hard to gauge that.”

Next, Spae and the Mooyah brand zero in on “people power” and creating the best and strongest team possible.

“Folks won’t work for a company that’s not profitable. They won’t work for a company that’s not growing,” he says. “So if you’re going to hire the best folks, … you’re going to have those first three [pillars] to attract them.”

Finally, innovation comes into play—and not just your run-of-the-mill innovation, Spae says. “Most folks look at product innovation,” he says. “I’m really talking about if you get the right people on board, you’re going to be able to innovate in training, in marketing, in real estate, in construction, obviously in operations, and certainly in product. We need to stay ahead of the curve, not follow the curve.”

Aside from these five pillars, franchisee support is also an important component to keeping the brand’s growth sustainable, Spae says. In addition to opening-week support—in which opening teams are present one week before and after every unit opens—Mooyah plans to assist franchisees by remaining present in the restaurants on a regular basis.

“Let’s make sure that we’re providing them the input and the opportunity to look at things a little differently than maybe they look at it on a day-to-day basis,” Spae says. “And the way we’re doing that is we have what we call a DNA assessment. This assessment is done by our field folks every month in every restaurant. It’s not meant to be a policing effort. It’s meant to teach, train, and inspire.”

Field teams take a comprehensive look at a unit’s operations from a human resources, crew, training, and local store marketing perspective. They then sit down with franchisees and cover which areas they’re excelling in and which they may have an opportunity to improve upon.

“By doing that on a monthly basis, you’re really elevating the standards by which they operate, and you’re helping them to understand things that need to be adjusted in their restaurants, but also bring in best practices from other places where these field folks work,” Spae says.

With plans to open in Dubai next month, Bahrain in September, and Kuwait at the end of the year, Mooyah has just dipped its toes into international expansion. Aside from the Middle East, the brand has struck a 70-store deal in Canada for the next 20 years, and is planting roots in Latin America and Mexico.

Domestically, Spae says the brand can support around 25 restaurant openings each year going forward. “We’ll probably keep it at roughly 20 restaurants next year, so we’ll be pushing 90 restaurants next year by the end of the year,” he says.

Ultimately, the brand hopes to open 50 restaurants a year, “but I don’t think we’ll get there until probably 2015,” Spae says.
Mooyah is targeting high-density U.S. markets that have a bulk of Millennial families. “They’re markets where obviously the economy is recovering or has recovered,” he says. “They’ll be more heavily dense suburban markets, and they’ll be more urban markets, as well.”

The brand has plans to enter areas like Chicago, the Northeast, and Florida, Spae says. But even with all of the plans growth, he emphasizes that sustainability remains key.

“You’re not going to see us out there building 100 restaurants. We’re going to do this in a way that creates a very positive opportunity for us with our franchise partners in markets where we know we can be successful with the resources and support that they need,” he says. “That’s a fairly simplistic approach, but I think it’s the one that will get us where we need to go and stay competitive.”

By Mary Avant

Burgers, Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Fast Casual, Growth, News, Operations, Mooyah