The future looks bright for the Smiling Moose Rocky Mountain Deli. The Colorado-based fast casual is gearing up for unprecedented growth with a new menu, revamped store and logo design, and a streamlined approach to operations.
“What’s that next step that’s going to allow us to differentiate ourselves? I think when the concept started back in 2003, it was really ahead of the curve,” says CEO Sue Daggett, who joined the Smiling Moose two years ago; before that, she was a regular customer. “We took our time really getting it right. We first and foremost, drew on the culinary trends and the guest experience. … We were also focused on operational execution and improving that.”
But better does not always mean bigger. As part of the menu overhaul, the Smiling Moose cut 27 SKUs, which improved efficiency. Guests used to have a choice between 13 breads for their sandwiches. Now the focus is on creating the best flavor combination for each menu item. Customers can still customize their order, but without the heavy cost of a dozen alternative bread options.
The guiding focus for these and other new items was on elevating sandwich staples to a new level. For example, the Smiling Moose did a creative take on the traditional tuna salad sandwich with its Wicked Wasabi Tuna: house-made tuna salad, avocado mash, tomatoes, cucumbers, and arugula served on ciabatta with wasabi mayo. And a grilled chicken sandwich is reimagined with a spicy kick in the Wildfire Chicken—grilled chicken with melted Provolone, avocado mash, and tomatoes served on a baguette with house-made sriracha-lime mayo.
Daggett says that beyond taste, the brand also wanted its foods to be healthy and accessible to a variety of diets. “We’re following and participating in this fresh and better-for-you category without sacrificing our hearty positioning,” Daggett says. Most items clock in under 600 calories and gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options are available.
The Smiling Moose’s transformation did not stop at the menu. Daggett says that while the store interiors were too reminiscent of the early to mid-2000s and needed an update. The new design, which has already been rolled out at the Watford City, North Dakota, location, pays homage the deli’s Rocky Mountain roots wooden tables accented with tree images, menuboards hung by carabineers, and an aspen tree accent wall, which is printed on beechwood. The new layout also features a more open kitchen—a common design element among fast-casual restaurants. Ranging from 1,800 to 2,200 square feet, all new stores will include these new features, and the existing stores will be retrofitted over the next three years.
“We really wanted to find out more about our guests, our atmosphere, and the menu, and we knew we had to stay ahead of our guest’s needs and we needed to find this authentic reason for being,” Daggett says.
The Smiling Moose himself also underwent a makeover from a Bullwinkle-like cartoon over a mountain and rising sun to a graphic rendering of a red moose in front of a single yellow mountain peak. The website, which was also updated, features a similarly streamlined appearance in addition to new features like online ordering.
Daggett says an enhanced technology platform will better serve the franchisees. For example, the brand migrated its POS into a cloud-based solution, which Daggett says makes it easier to maintain the system and do weekly P&Ls and theoretical food costs.
“When you do this sort of brand overhaul, it really touches everything in your organization,” Daggett says
The Smiling Moose numbers 18 units across seven states, ranging from the Dakotas and Wyoming down to Texas, but the brand plans to hit the 100 mark by 2020. Daggett says the company will work with existing franchisees to build up their regions and will likely focus on its swath of the Rocky Mountains to target its key demographic and take advantage of supply chains that are already in place.
By Nicole Duncan