Jake’s Wayback EVP: The More Americana, the Better

Sometimes you have to slow down, to speed up.

It’s a simple lesson that Bill Chemero says he picked up while developing the concept for Edible Arrangements, the staple for sending congratulations and condolences, and is now applying to his new role as executive vice president of Jake’s Wayback Burgers.

And the fast-casual chain is certainly speeding up—with deals to open locations in 30 different countries in the next year. Its first international opening is scheduled for Dubai in the next several months. The company is in its first 5 years of franchising, having not only survived but thrived during the great recession, with 82 locations in the U.S.

“We had no intentions of going international,” Chemero says. “We had an international customer who said he wanted to get involved with Jake’s in the Middle East. He was an international banker who stopped in our Connecticut store with his wife and five sons, and we said no. Over the next six months, he had gotten more aggressive, and at the time the U.S. economy was stalled."

The customer finally convinced Chemero, and has a deal for a location in Saudi Arabia, he says. It was good timing to start thinking internationally, as the U.S. was in the depths of the great recession in 2009. The Mid-East and North Africa proved to be a “hotbed” for development, he says.

“We met with every international franchisee in their country before we inked a deal. Our big concern was getting to know them,” he says. “We found in the Middle East in particular, they like the history of the U.S. – the Wild West concept. That was one of the reasons we decided to go international, it’s something new and exciting.”

But that being said, American store development hasn’t taken a backseat.  Chemero says 22% of its franchisees in the U.S. have more than one store, and one ambitious franchisee is about to open his sixth store.

Despite the doom and gloom in the small business community over the Affordable Care Act, Chemero says the morale among franchisees is positive. Under the ACA’s employer mandate, every employer with at least 50 or more full-time workers has to offer coverage beginning in 2015. Employers that don’t will face a fine of $2,000 per worker, per year (the first 30 full-time employees are exempt). Those with 50-to-99 workers are exempt until 2016, under a recent delay in the law.

“The good news is that it doesn’t really impact us, because franchisees with multiple stores still only have about 20 full-time employees,” he says. “Our biggest franchisee is right at the threshold of 50 full-time employees. It could impact future expansion for him, but unfortunately he will probably just roll the costs onto the consumer.”

The corporate arm of Jake’s has hit the 50 employee threshold, but Chemero says they are already offering health insurance to workers.

And although they are a newer player in the fast-casual market, Chemero says Jake’s is poised to take on bigger competitors like Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Applebee’s and Chili’s.

“We think we are well-positioned to take on the bigger guys in fast casual,” he says. “Our whole philosophy is that you can go fast by learning to grow slow.”