Five Lessons We Learned Spying on Denver’s Top Fast Casual Concepts

This is the last piece on Fresh Hospitality’s scouting trip to Denver  – I will wrap up the major lessons from our trip and go over what we learned.

Our trip to Denver provided Fresh Hospitality with a wealth of information and ideas not only about our competition but also ways we can improve our own concepts. The Denver trip was a whirlwind of activity – we visited a ton of restaurants and scoped out a lot of potential real estate for new businesses in the Denver area.  While we ultimately visited over 15 restaurants in Denver (admittedly not all fast casual) – these lessons are from what we considered the strongest competitors.

Here is a quick summary of the major takeaways from our trip.

  • Focus on Fresh, Healthy, Local Food – a number of our competitors are very “in your face” about how fresh and healthy their food is – to the point of having the words literally plastered all over the walls in giant font
  • Fresh Baked Pita – a theme we saw at Roti also – Garbanzo has fresh baked pita coming out right in front of the customers eyes – it’s hard to go wrong showing the customer how fresh and scratch made your food is
  • Free Food Samples – giving away fresh and healthy food samples to customers not only lets them sample new and exciting menu items but also drives home the message of the foods freshness
  • Excellent Use of Awkward Interior Spaces – we saw some great examples of innovative design using cramped interior spaces (specifically at Tokyo Joe’s)
  • Effective use of In Store Micro-Brewery – really cool concept of creating an in store micro -brewery and something we might look at for some of our concepts

Denver is a strong market for Fast Casual concepts (and the birthplace of Fast Casual itself) and there are a number of major areas in Denver that would be great locations for the expansion of all of Fresh’s concepts.  As always it was a great learning experience and really helped us think about how we are going to move some of our concepts forward.

Let me know what you think about these lessons and stay tuned here and on Twitter to keep up with Fresh Hospitality’s adventures.

To read the rest of our trip report from Denver click the below links.

Part 1 – Garbanzo

Part 2 – Tokyo Joes

Part 3 – Marketing Secrets

Part 4 – Build Your Own Brewery 

BYOB: Be Your Own Brewmaster – Lessons From Fresh Hospitality’s Denver Trip

This is the fourth post in a series about Fresh Hospitality’s latest trip to Denver, Colorado to scout out some big competitors and learn more about them. These are just the raw facts and our thoughts from the trip – hope you enjoy. (Find Part One, Part Two, and Part Three  here)

In Store Micro Brewery

We incidentally visited a little restaurant next to Garbanzo named “Dad & Dudes Breweria”  which was a pizza and beer spot. The most interesting find here was an in-store micro-brewery that could produce 14 kegs a week (2 per day) of micro brewed beer. The entire brewery was behind the bar and visible from the stores entrance.

They had 2 temperature controlled environments (one for fermentation one for storage) and 2 kegs for producing the actual beer. The build out is relatively inexpensive (~20k) and doesn’t take up a huge amount of square footage.

Shot of the micro-brewery from the front door

Shot from the bar

You can see clearly in this picture – storage is on the left, fermentation on the right and the production kegs can barely be seen in the foreground.

I think these mini-breweries offer a great alternative for restaurant’s that want to serve handcrafted beer without all the trouble of having a full in house brewery operation. You can really bring a unique experience to the customer and deliver them a great product – for a fraction of the buildout and cost of a traditional in-store brewery operation.

While on the theme of beer – we also stopped by The Alehouse at Amato‘s – a new venture from Breckenridge Brewery in the popular Highlands region of Denver. Their sales numbers are outstanding. I just wanted to share two shots of their tap wall in the kitchen (for serving beer to the dining room) and their keg room.

 

Let me know what you think about these lessons and stay tuned here and on Twitter to keep up with Fresh Hospitality’s adventures.

Marketing Lessons From Denver’s Top Fast Casual Chains

This is the third post in a series about Fresh Hospitality’s latest trip to Denver, Colorado to scout out some big competitor and learn more about them. These are just the raw facts and our thoughts from the trip – hope you enjoy. (Find Part One and  Part Two here)

Now that I’ve reviewed the two major fast casual concepts we wanted to visit – I am going to share a few of the key lessons from our visit.

Lesson #1: Telling The Customer Your Food is FRESH, HEALTHY, and LOCAL

Every concept we visited was very forward and upfront about telling the customers how fresh, local, and healthy their food was. Signs, posters, and even entire walls were dedicated to this. These concepts really drilled home how fresh and healthy their food was.

I think this is something that we could do a better job of at Tazikis and our other fast casual concepts – we all know the food is healthy but we don’t tell the customers -we just assume they know it too but even a simple slogan like “No Freezers, No Fries – Always Fresh & Healthy” somewhere in line or near the front of the restaurant could help establish this in the customers mind. We saw signs like this at nearly every competitor.

Garbanzo had a huge focus on this – when you are standing in line they have an entire wall talking about how fresh and healthy the food is.

“Compromise is a bad word” is the slogan Garbanzo used on their wall:

Garbanzo also featured posters ALL over their walls alternating between the words “Fresh” and “Healthy” with paragraph descriptions about Garbanzo’s food.

The focus on healthy messaging to consumers is really a reflection of consumers continued shift towards healthier brands and making healthy choices. I think concepts that do a good job communicating a healthy message to their consumers are going to have a significant edge over brands that don’t focus on it. Tokyo Joes had a similar focus – right when you walk in the door there is a sign talking about how healthy, fresh, and local their food is.

We also stopped by Brothers BBQ in Denver – a locally owned Chain with ~10 locations that is considered by many to be the best BBQ in Denver. The food was pretty underwhelming, they do not cook anything on site and they commissary the BBQ in each day from a central location where they cook it. The only thing on site were fryers and some heating units.

One thing we really liked that they did do – they were selling t-shirts that had the following logo on them. This could be something to consider in Alabama for our brands – “Family owned and Alabama grown.”

Wanna see the next big takeaway from our Denver visit? Find part four of our scouting trip right here.

Let me know what you think about these lessons and stay tuned here and on Twitter to keep up with Fresh Hospitality’s adventures.

What 43 Hours In Denver Taught Me About Fast Casual (Part 2)

This is the second post in a series about Fresh Hospitality’s latest trip to Denver, Colorado to scout out some big competitors and learn more about them. These are just the raw facts and our thoughts from the trip – hope you enjoy. (Find Part One Here)

Next stop on the Fresh Express was the highly impressive fast casual concept Tokyo Joes. These guys executed very effectively and have a great concept.

Tokyo Joes

http://tokyojoes.com/

Tokyo Joes is an Asian (Japanese) fast casual concept located in Denver. In just the Denver market Tokyo Joes has 25 locations. What does that tell you about the strength of the concept? These is a very real contender in the fast casual space right now.

Tokyo Joes was structured with a build your own menu where you select your protein, carb, sauces etc and it also featured some pre-made dishes. Tokyo Joes did have the server bring the food out to you and had very friendly service across the board.

Tokyo Joes had great use of some awkward interior spaces, community seating, and wall seating. They also continued the trend of hammering the customer with the message that their food is healthy and local (full details here). We went in the late afternoon but you can tell that Joe’s does a really strong lunch.

 

Tokyo Joes is probably one of the strongest concepts in Denver and the leading fast casual restaurant. We also think the strong presence of Tokyo Joes may be why Chipotle (based originally out of Denver) chose to open their Asian fast casual concept ShopHouse in the DC market first instead of their native Denver.

Wanna see where the big lessons we learned on our trip? Find part three of our scouting trip right here.

What 43 Hours In Denver Taught Me About Fast Casual

The Fresh Hospitality crew once again piled onto a plane for 3 hours for another crash course in Fast Casual restaurants. This time our destination was the mile high city – Denver – arguably the birthplace of Fast Casual itself (Chipotle, anyone?) and most definitely one of the most forward looking restaurant cities in America (especially in the fast casual space).

We strapped in on the AM Southwest Flight and go into Denver in time to eat lunch at least 3 or 4 times.

I will spare you the details of everywhere we visited (my stomach is still about to explode days later) but I wanted to share the highlights. I will tell you about the top 2 fast casual spots we visited and give you a couple lessons that we took away from the visit.

This is the first post in what will be a series about our trip to Denver to scout out some big competitors and learn more about them. These are just the raw facts and our thoughts from the trip – hope you enjoy.

Garbanzo

http://www.eatgarbanzo.com/

One of the main focuses of our journey was to check out Garbanzo – what we considered a major competitor to Taziki’s. Garbanzo has ~10 locations in and around Denver and is actually being developed by the founder of Panera Bread.

Fresh Baked Pitas For Sale

Garbanzo had a few strengths – mainly their almost overpowering emphasis on how FRESH and HEALTHY their food is (more on there here) and their use of Fresh Baked Pita’s. They sell the fresh baked pitas at the checkout and they also situate the pita machine so it’s the first thing you see when you are standing in line.

Close up of the Pita Oven

 Pita Oven At the Line

 Garbanzo emphasized a “try anything on our menu” sample policy encouraging customers to have a taste of their Falafel, fresh pita, etc. They had the below sign and also had employees basically begging us to take free samples (of the falafel in particular). The staff at both stores was also very friendly – sometimes so friendly they were almost in your face

Sample Anything

 Overall – Garbanzo seemed to be a more fast food version of Roti – featuring a “build your own” menu, serve your own drinks etc and the decor was sparse and felt like a converted McDonalds the service model felt almost purely fast food – no table interaction at all as you got your dish at the cash register and the food was served with plastic trays.

Wanna see where we went next? Find part two of our scouting trip right here.

Let me know what you think about these lessons and stay tuned here and on Twitter to keep up with Fresh Hospitality’s adventures.