Appell Pie January 2009
Swimming Upstream

As we begin the year 2009 we are going to face challenges that have never been presented before and could threaten to destroy our bottom line and worse, the very existence of our businesses. Hold on a minute that’s what the people who have no vision and no business sense would tell you. Now is the time to grow your business and take the time to expand upon what you are doing correctly and work on eliminating the elements that are not working for you.

I just returned from a road trip and along the way ate at two restaurant concepts that seem to be thriving against all conventional wisdom. Would you open a hamburger restaurant chain and face the giants head on? That’s what Five Guys Burgers and Fries did. It was Sunday afternoon around 12:30 in Dalton Georgia as we began our first experience with Five Guys.

We were greeted at the order counter warmly by a lady with a giant smile. We asked a few questions about the menu choices and ordered our meals. My wife always orders her hamburgers extra well done and she ordered hers that way. The response was a smile and the assurance that no hamburger is served with any pink showing. Bacon was also ordered well done to complete the bacon cheeseburger. Again the assurance and smile that all meat products were cooked well done. I shook my head knowing I was looking at a return trip to the grill. Not so. Everything came out perfectly. We also ordered two orders of fries, which turned out to be enough for 4 people. I ate my share and more. By the time we were ready to leave the line was out the door to order.

What is making this chain successful? The design is checkerboard red and white, clean and relaxed, the cooking area is open to public viewing and kept clean even at the busiest times. Did I mention the food? Quality seems to be the number one reason for repeat customers. We enjoyed our meals.

A BBQ rib restaurant concept is a very difficult concept to expand on due to different regional tastes and recipes. The Carolina’s vinegar base sauce, the Memphis style, the Texas beef and the Kansas City style are very different tastes and many have tried and failed. In a new shopping plaza in Hendersonville Tennessee is Shane’s Rib Shack. It has been there for about a year and I always wanted to try it and on this trip we made the time to do so. It was Saturday late afternoon when we arrived. Upon entering you face the counter to place your order. I found it strange to be ordering ribs at a counter because every restaurant I enjoy ribs in offers table service. We were there with three adults and two kids who ordered hamburgers. You get a number on a stand and you seat yourself. After a few minutes the meals were delivered to us. Did I mention the food? The ribs were a cross between Memphis and light Carolina with a pepper kick. I enjoyed them. By the time we were completing our meals the line here was out the door to order for eat in and take out. What makes this chain successful? Designed to look like a picnic in the Caribbean it is warm and family friendly. Did I mention the food? Here again the quality and serving size will lead to return visits.

These two chains have invested the time to develop concepts that will work based on elements that insure their success; quality of product, price, decor and service. You know your business better than anyone else. Take a good long look at what you are doing right and wrong. Make the necessary changes and you will survive in a tough economic environment. Did I mention the food? (Thanks Rick)

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Comment by Howard Appell on February 2, 2009 at 5:34am
I heard that the Shane's brand was sold to another restaurant group right after I wrote that column. I hope they keep it as good as it is.
Comment by Andy Swingley on February 2, 2009 at 4:01am
I haven't had the pleasure of Five Guys but we do have a Shane's here in Columbus, OH and I would have to agree with you! Good stuff.

Thanks Howard for validating my faith that great service and great food can thrive anytime

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