MOOYAH Burgers, Fries, & Shakes may be twice the size it was in 2011—jumping from 25 to 50 locations in the span of a year—but the growth certainly isn’t double the trouble for the better-burger brand.

Rather, it’s double the opportunity, with plans to expand its reach and double its store count again in 2013.

Michael Mabry, director of franchise for the brand, says much of the growth has come from existing franchisees that are opening their second, third, or even fourth unit. “The newer folks that are attracted to us see the success of our current franchisees and then come on board,” he adds.

And though the growth has been explosive, it didn’t come out of left field.

“One of our original vision statements back in 2007 was to be a nationally recognized brand by 2013,” Mabry says. “It’s been six years in the making, and if we crack the code of 100 restaurants next year, we should be a nationally recognized brand.”

Although the team took steady paces to prep for rapid growth, Mabry says challenges have accompanied its expansion. “You’ve got to make sure you’ve got the correct folks on board that have the bandwidth for the growth,” he says.

To assemble top-notch teams, MOOYAH searches for franchisees that are passionate about guest service and their team members. They also must “own” the community, Mabry says, by supporting local schools, booster clubs, churches, businesses, and other organizations.

“If you’ve got a passion for guests service, if you’ve got a passion for people, then MOOYAH is right for you,” he says. “We’re not right for everybody because of our emphasis on guest service. To us, it’s a key tenet of our business. It starts from leadership all the way down.”

It’s this emphasis on people—the “MOOYAH experience”—that president Alan Hixon says helps the brand stand out among the competition in a booming better-burger segment.

He also points to the chain’s product offerings—including beef, turkey, and veggie burgers; made-in-house buns; and milkshakes and candy toppings—as a differentiator that enables the concept to attract not only customers, but also new franchisees.

“There’s been a lot of interest in the brand and a lot of interest in the space,” Hixon says. “We’ve received a lot of acclaim and a lot of notoriety in the process, so people are able to find us pretty easily when they begin their search in the category.

“Then, as they continue to do their due diligence and learn more about us,” he continues, “we find quite often that people become very enamored with what they find and they want to become a part of it.”

But while the growth has been welcomed with open arms, the brand has continually worked toward smoothing out the kinks and finding ways to improve. “We’ve become much better at site selection as we’ve done more on the ground,” Hixon says.

He also adds that the brand has created more training opportunities for team members, as well as enhanced its infrastructure.

“When a lot of concepts begin rapid expansion, they tend to be focused so much on growth that they take their eye off the ball of sustaining existing operations,” Hixon says. “You have to be very mindful of that, and we’re trying to do our best to position ourselves to continue to add more layers and qualified people … to ensure that we’re able to support [growth].”

In the coming years, Hixon says he expects the brand to hit the 150-store mark through its expansion across the country. MOOYAH is eyeing markets like Florida and has already seen growth in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Utah, Colorado, and Connecticut.

Though the brand will be busy with expansion through 2014, Mabry says the pace of growth should slow by 2015 to 35–50 new units a year.

“We just have to continue to stay on track for a wonderful future here,” Hixon says.

By Mary Avant

Burgers, Business Advice, Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Growth, News, Pizza, Mooyah