McAlister’s Deli has a “southern flavor that Arizona lacks,” said Panos Joulios, citing one of the reasons he decided to add the fast-casual concept with roots in Mississippi to his Whirld Concepts portfolio.
A longtime Jamba franchisee with 32 stores in Arizona, Joulios signed an eight-unit development agreement to “tip toe” with McAlister’s. His first restaurant, slated to open later this year in the Phoenix suburb of Goodyear, is being developed side-by-side with a new Jamba, a couple Joulios is eager to debut.
“We are delighted to share this property,” he said of the newly constructed building which has a McAlister with a digital order pickup window on one side and a Jamba drive-thru on the other. . The two are complementary brands, Joulios said, and while co-locating concepts isn’t central to his development strategy, he likes the approach and also sees the potential for a Jamba and Cinnabon combination. It opened a joint location with those brands in the central Arizona town of Prescott last fall.
“I’m pushing for more Jambas behind the wheel,” he noted, and would like to add to his Cinnabon unit count. Both concepts have ease of execution on their side, and Joulios looked for equally simple operations when considering expanding his portfolio.
“I like not having the headaches of a full-service restaurant,” he said of McAlister, who doesn’t need grills or deep fryers in his kitchens. The potential for higher average unit volumes was also attractive as Joulios strives to grow its business and develop its people.
“McAlister’s higher sales volumes will help us take on more of our senior executives at Jamba and give them more opportunities,” he said, calling McAlister’s $1.8 million AUV compared to Jamba’s average sales of $754,000.
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Like Jamba and Cinnabon, McAlister’s Deli operates under Focus Brands, and Joulios is among a growing number of existing franchisees looking to the Focus portfolio to grow their own. Another is Dale Mulvey, a multi-unit McAlister franchisee who last year bought nine Moe’s Southwest Grill restaurants in and around Charlotte, North Carolina, and is developing new locations in Ohio. Focus acquired Moe’s in 2007 from Raving Brands.
Working in restaurants since he was a student at Indiana University, Mulvey began buying McAlister’s units in 2008. He grew the number of units of this brand (he also owns a handful of stores Dunkin’ in Texas) to 72 through a combination of acquisitions and new builds, and recalled how he thought McAlister had a “big track.”
“I thought we could build a $100 million business — and we did,” he said. He sees a similar opportunity in the Mexican category with Moe’s, a brand that, like McAlister’s and Dunkin’, has cultivated a personal connection with its customers.
“With McAlister’s and Dunkin’, I like concepts where I can relate to people,” Mulvey said. “I feel like Moe’s client has the same connection.” Most of the system’s roughly 680 restaurants are in the Southeast, as well as markets such as New York and New Jersey, meaning there’s plenty of room in the middle of the country.
“Moe’s has a lot of opportunities in the market that it hasn’t entered yet. And that’s something we like to do,” Mulvey said.
“We think we’re doing two things very well: we can maximize operations and expand stores into new markets.”
The potential for increased digital sales for Moe’s – Focus Brands unveiled plans in April to reach 50% of digital channel revenue – also appealed to Mulvey, who saw the benefits of a digital push from McAlister’s in early 2020 .
“Our biggest opportunity right now is really understanding how to leverage digital and the customer’s desire to order online,” he said. For Moe’s, that means having a platform that can make customization easy.
“Personalization seems simple when you’re across the counter, but it gets a little more difficult through the computer,” Mulvey continued. “We need to meet our customers digitally with the same enthusiasm and interest as we would across the counter.”