Industry News | May 17, 2015 | QSR Exclusive Brief

FROM THE FLOOR: Demystifying the "Special Sauce" of Top Brands

When it comes to building a buzz-worthy brand—one with the food and business model to back warrant such hype—there is no single mandate that fits all companies. At least that was the message that Aaron Noveshen, founder of the consulting firm the Culinary Edge, emphasized in his talk, “From Main Street to Wall Street: Secrets behind America’s Great Growing Brands,” at the 2015 National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show.

Noveshen presented eight hypotheses with corresponding case studies to explain the “special sauce,” that was key in several initial public offerings (IPOs). Of the eight case studies, only one highlighted a full-service chain; limited-service brands and one food-delivery company (San Francisco­-based Sprig) rounded out the rest.

While jaw-dropping IPOs à la Shake Shack might seem impossible to replicate, Noveshen demystified the better-burger brand’s appeal. “Simple can be special,” was the first and possibly most powerful theory on Noveshen’s list. Burgers and custard are hardly innovative menu items, but Danny Meyers made it special for the community by opening the first Shake Shack in Madison Square Park in New York City—a location that has since become vibrant but was much quieter at the time, Noveshen said.

“We can learn how to be on the side of our guest,” he said in reference to Meyer’s business model, which is explained in his book, Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business. Finding a niche and staying true to the core mission was a repeated theme throughout Noveshen’s presentation.

California-based El Pollo Loco’s distinguishing factor was its authenticity. Whereas some Mexican-food brands focus on nontraditional iteration of classic foods, El Pollo Loco—which Noveshen called the “anti-Taco Bell”—embraces its ethnic roots. Originally founded in Mexico before moving its headquarters to the U.S., the brand appeals to native Spanish speakers, who account for 50 percent of its consumer base. Comprised of Mexican meal staples, El Pollo Loco brings families together for a meal the way KFC did 20 years ago, Noveshen said.

Similar to El Pollo Loco’s authenticity, Bojangles' has found success by maintaining a steady core menu. The North Carolina-based operator established its niche in Southern comfort foods, specifically chicken and waffles. Although the menu has not changed since 1977, the brand owns the chicken and waffles space and saw an impressive IPO earlier this month. Noveshen also explored the importance of community, convenience, and experiential value with case studies including Sweetgreen and the Habit Burger Grill.


By Nicole Duncan

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