Communication is crucial to every part of Raising Cane’s business, says co-CEO and COO AJ Kumaran.

The fast casual has an internal app called “One Love Crew” where employees post about success stories, farewells, and everything in between. The company that built the app said the chain has the highest engagement rate of any brand. It’s representative of Kumaran’s belief in having open channels of discussion at every level. Restaurant results, priorities, misses, challenges, and triumphs are shared regularly, and there are often opportunities on video calls for workers to step up and ask questions. And by “worker,” Kumaran means the entire ecosystem of crew members, not just a select group of leaders. Raising Cane’s also has a Restaurant Advisory Council composed of individuals from across the country who keep their ear to the ground, learn what’s happening, and provide feedback on what the company should do next.

Standing by his mindset, Kumaran shares his phone number and email with everyone at the company. A lot of employees take him up on it, too. In fact, one person called him about a Raising Cane’s–branded shoe.

“It was 10 o’clock at night, but that’s important to him,” the CEO says. “I talked to him, chatted with him. He’s from Chicago. I sent him a pair of shoes.”

The connected culture has fueled financial momentum. In 2024, the brand is projected to earn more than $4.5 billion in systemwide sales, eclipse $6 million in AUV, and finish with more than 850 restaurants, inclusive of the U.S. and close to 50 units in the Middle East. Raising Cane’s is on pace to debut 90-plus restaurants this year, a vast majority of them company-owned. This includes a new flagship restaurant in Nashville. In June 2023, Raising Cane’s opened in New York City with a flagship in Times Square, and that store is on pace to earn north of $20 million in its first year.

The brand has experienced 62 straight quarters of positive same-store sales (if you’re doing the math, that’s 15 and a half years), and AUV has more than doubled since 2015. In Q1 2024, comps were up 15.1 percent, driven by an 11.4 percent rise in guest count. Expect things to remain the same in the foreseeable future as the brand has more than 350 restaurants in the pipeline.

Kumaran appreciates the sales figures, but he’s the first person to direct attention toward team members. On the labor front, Raising Cane’s continues to see industry-leading turnover rates and record application flow. It increased the number of employees per store to more than 100, and it plans to promote more than 2,000 crew members this year. All hourly managers earn at least $18 per hour.

The brand follows a “You Can at Cane’s” mantra within an industry that often hears “no,” Kumaran says. Raising Cane’s gives employees a chance to have weekends off, take vacations during July 4th, or see their child play baseball. In addition to that lifestyle, the fast casual aims to provide financial support so employees know how to deploy their dollars properly and plan for the rest of their life.

“We want to change the industry norm of, ‘Hey, this industry is tough and you cannot do anything personal,’  to ‘You can have a great career, you can have a great living, you can have a great network, and you can be at games.’ And in this industry, that provides a lot of opportunities and frankly, satisfaction,” Kumaran says.

The chain’s Restaurant Partner Program is arguably the best example of Raising Cane’s philosophy. Kicking off about four years ago, the initiative lays out a development pathway for store managers to become operators at company-owned locations. Employees who successfully come through the program have an opportunity to achieve a net worth of $1 million in less than a decade. Currently, 160 crew members are enrolled and 40 are scheduled to graduate. Since its inception, the program has paid out more than $30 million in long-term value to employees, on top of their salaries and bonuses.

“It’s been a very popular program,” Kumaran says. “I would love to see at least half of our restaurant leaders get into that. But it’s also, I would say, a high-expectations program. We give great training and coaching and leadership development to prepare them to take on being a partner of Raising Cane’s in business with them.”

To help grow the store footprint, Raising Cane’s uses a Certified Traveling Trainer program that gives employees a chance to move nationally and assist with opening restaurants in other markets. The fast casual entered 15 trade areas in 2023. This year, it plans to double its NYC restaurant count and reach 20 stores in Florida.

It also hopes to open 20–25 locations in California in 2024 and almost 50 in the next 18 months. And that’s in light of the new fast-food wage law that raised quick-service minimum wage to $20 per hour. Kumaran doesn’t claim to be a government expert, but he does know a lot about chicken fingers and knows that California customers love the brand. The Golden State is one of the chain’s highest AUV markets. As for the change in pay, “minimum is never a minimum” to Raising Cane’s. The chain chooses to keep parity. If the minimum is $16 per hour, the fast casual prefers $18. Now that it’s $20 per hour, the brand will seek $22, $23, or $24. Kumaran understands that it’s an industry of razor-thin margins, but he emphasizes that the company is happy when employees can make more money.

The chain took a 7.5 percent price increase in response to the fast-food wage law. The price hike took effect April 1, the same day the law began.

“We did it only on the exact day of when things had to change. I’ve seen people who do it preemptively and kind of build up,” Kumaran says. “We’re not any of that. We’re probably in the middle to the bottom end of the prices that we’ve taken in California. It doesn’t protect all of our margins. It cuts it close enough, but we believe that the customers totally understand. We’ve not seen any issues at all in the last almost month of operating in that climate.”

USA Today recently highlighted Raising Cane’s as part of its “Top Workplaces USA 2024” feature. It was the lone restaurant company in the top 25. Kumaran describes the recognition as a reaffirmation that the chain is doing right by its employees.

“What is most important is that our crew members are smiling, they have a great lifestyle, they’re compensated well, they have great benefits and all of that,” he says. “We are continuing to grow. We want to do this with a lot of people, have a lot of fun, and we want to really make what is not possible in this business possible. So we welcome anyone and everyone who wants to join in the journey with us. We always say the journey is just as important as the destination. So numbers, financial results, all of that is great, but the journey of getting there is equally or probably more important to us.”

Employee Management, Fast Casual, Growth, Story, Web Exclusives, Raising Cane's