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When it comes to building up a restaurant chain, companies generally fall into one of two camps: growth by franchising or growth through corporate stores. Like political parties, these affiliations are chosen based on core values and more often than not, they are mutually exclusive.
That’s not the case for Charley Shin. The founder and CEO of Charleys Philly Steaks and Bibibop Asian Grill approaches growth differently for the two sister brands.
“Charley’s will continue to operate as a franchise model, but Bibibop, because of the type of operation it is and the culture we want to keep, we found it a lot more compelling to grow through the corporate model,” Shin says.
He adds that franchising by nature makes it more challenging to maintain that culture and reach the lives of employees since it requires the franchisees adopting that same culture wholeheartedly. Bibibop also stands to be more alien to consumers as it involves building a customized bowl, salad, or roll with Asian-inspired ingredients.
Despite some recent updates, Charleys' menu is still easily approachable. Three years ago it rebranded from Charleys Grilled Subs to Charleys Philly Steaks—a decision Shin says was largely driven by how oversaturated the subcategory was. Philly cheese steaks offered a far less crowded field where the brand could grow.
Charleys also refreshed its appearance and its menu. In addition to updated POP signage and menuboards, the brand also refocused the menu on Philly cheese steaks and its gourmet fries, the latter of which has helped the brand mine the emerging snack daypart.
“We are focusing on offering more of the snack items by expanding our gourmet fries. Last year we offered loaded cheese fries … which is larger than our normal fries and has different vegetables and three different cheeses on it,” Shin says, adding that they also found success with a pepperoni variety. “We need to capture that market and be a brand that is loved by Millennials. They’re a little bit more complex than Baby Boomers. They’re looking for more customized food at the same time, more flavor and more volume.”
Charleys Philly Steaks has seen a 20 percent increase in comp sales over the last two years, and Shin estimates another 50 units will open this year. Bibibop’s expansion is steadier, but still consistent. Earlier this month it opened its ninth location. With Columbus well filled in, Shin says Bibibop will concentrate on saturating Cincinnati next while also looking to other markets—beyond Ohio—where it can make its mark. The Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina is one possibility.
“When we go into the market, we have to really have a minimum of four locations within the first 12 months. We don’t want to go into a market, open one location, and wait and see,” Shin says. “We believe our brand and concept have proven so strong, and we’re confident it’s going to do well in a market like Raleigh-Durham where there’s a younger, educated crowd,” Shin says.
By Nicole Duncan