QSR January 2023


Oganesyan remembers plenty of moments like those, back when customers would wait in the park ing lot for two-and-a-half hours. The environment was nothing special; it was just a tent, a couple of fryers, and some tables. The menu, based around the Nash ville hot chicken craze, is what drew crowds. As Oganesyan says, “Food is our superpower.” When the fast casual transitioned to its first brick-and-mortar, the found ers had an opportunity to visually invoke the same feelings custom ers have when they first bite into a tender or slider. At the start, it was decided that every store would look different to prove Dave’s authen ticity. From there, “the coolness of Dave’s just evolved,” Ogane syan says.

have increased in the past couple of years, which tells Phelps that Dave’s is doing what’s necessary to main tain a consistent guest experience. Last year, the brand caught the eyes of Grammy-award-win ning artist Drake, who loved the food so much he took a minority stake in the company, along with Samuel L. Jackson, NFL Hall-of Famer Michael Strahan, and Red Sox owner Tom Werner. “When you’re in the first couple of weeks at the parking lot, cooking food and making 100 bucks a day, if somebody told you you’re going to be partners with Drake in a couple of years, you’re probably not going to believe it,” Oganesyan says. “So it’s definitely surreal and it just val idates that everything we’ve done have been the right things. Keeping


Fueled by a passion for food and sympathy for people who didn’t have access to Nashville hot chicken outside of Southern California, the founders wanted to plant as many f lags as pos sible throughout the U.S. What they had on paper compared to what happened is still diff icult for Oganesyan to wrap his mind around. Thanks to a well-built franchising program, Dave’s finished 2022 with roughly 100 locations—including international spots in Canada and Dubai—after starting 2021 with just seven stores. There are 620 units in development, and 85 restaurants are expected to debut globally in 2023. The company believes there’s room for 1,000–1,200 stores domestically and another 800 to 1,000 internationally. “To be here now, it’s pretty incredible, but I think we also realize that we still have a lot of work to do. We still have a lot of stores to open,” Oganesyan says. “We have a lot of franchisees. So right now our priority is making sure that our operations and the stores are running really well so franchises continue to want to open up stores. So we understand that we’ve done a lot, and we also understand there’s still a lot to do. We’re still in that work mode—continuously trying to improve the brand as much as we can.” Bill Phelps, cofounder and previous longtime CEO of Wet zel’s Pretzels, attributes much of the growth to understanding the customer base, which is the 15- to 30-year-old male demo graphic. That group hasn’t changed much from the early days of the parking lot and the f irst brick-and-mortar unit in Hol lywood. Phelps says no one knows more about capturing that target audience than Oganesyan. The CEO, a former Nestlé marketing man himself, describes Oganesyan as the best mar keter he’s ever worked with. That’s because all the video and photographic content on TikTok, Instagram, and other plat forms are organic, genuine, and appealing. As the chain’s footprint has remarkably expanded, Yelp and Google scores

the brand authentic, keeping it about the food, keeping it about the customer experience. All that paid off enough that one of the biggest people in pop culture invested into the brand. So it was surreal. We were big fans of him. We still are. And like I said, it validated everything we did and it’s still kind of surreal and hard to believe.” Although Dave’s is headquartered in Southern California, it has locations in multiple states thousands of miles away, like Wisconsin, North Carolina, Ohio, and New York. The intention is to be a national brand, and Bitticks—formerly the chief res taurant officer of Blaze Pizza—came with a playbook. After all, the pizza chain was once called the fastest-growing restaurant chain in U.S. history. PFG is the distributor, so a countrywide network has been lined up. In terms of markets, the critical fac tor isn’t so much the demographics of a particular city, but more so the quality of the franchisees driving expansion. Operators typically sign on for six to 10 stores, depending on experience. Dave’s is willing to go anywhere if the operator meets expec tations. The chain moved into Tutalatin, Oregon, a suburb of Portland, in an endcap location, and the team was shocked by the sales volume. The brand opened on the same day in Den ver, Colorado, but in an urban endcap spot, and sales were just as impressive. The same results happen with standalone loca tions. The standard real estate footprint is between 2,000 and 2,500 square feet. The smallest is 1,400 square feet and some reach 3,000 to 3,500 square feet. Ten to 15 percent of the system uses drive-thru, and the brand opened a ghost kitchen in 2021. A pickup-only location is in development. “Clearly, it gives franchisees confidence that they can invest in this brand, because we opened up in Menomonee Falls and I don’t know about you, I’ve never heard of Menomonee Falls before,” Phelps says with a chuckle. “It’s up near Milwaukee, and we opened it up, and it was great. We opened up into Tual



JANUARY 2023 | QSR | www.qsrmagazine.com

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