Fast-casual-restaurants has been a strong segment for expansion in the slow recovery, but one industry veteran says it’s important not to let demand drive growth too quickly. In this edition of Conference Room, Meatheads CEO Tom Jednorowicz spoke to FBN’s Jeff Flock about what it takes to build a successful restaurant chain. As Chief Development Officer at Potbelly Sandwich Shop, Jednorowicz oversaw the company’s expansion from four to 100 locations in just four years. And previously, he worked at chains such as Cosi and Boston Market, where he gained experience in the fast-casual segment of the restaurant business. When he caught the entrepreneurial bug, Jednorowicz says he toyed with the idea of buying into another chain, but decided to strike out on his own with Meatheads, a family-oriented, fast-casual concept. “I think the reason why we went into this is we had some fundamental principles that we felt the only place we could really execute them was within the confines of our own business,” says Jednorowicz. Despite opening in 2008, at the height of the recession, Jednorowicz says he’s been able to make Meatheads a success: There are currently 13 restaurants open, with two more locations under construction. “2008 was very challenging, and reality was, [it] almost put us out of business. But we figured out how to persevere and ultimately derive a lot of success from this business,” says Jednorowicz. And while the company is steadily growing, Jednorowicz says it’s important to know when to step on the brakes. “You have to be very cautious about growth … Growth is where the wheels can fall off the bus in an operation like this,” he says. While Potbelly grew quickly, Jednorowicz says the quick rise was a success; other companies, he says, have been unluckier in expanding at a high speed. The key to managing growth, in his opinion, is making sure quality comes before quantity when it comes to locations. “I think you need to be very judicious about being sure that you execute to your standards … with every restaurant you open, and let that govern your growth,” says Jednorowicz.
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