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In the Kitchen: Mix-and-match menuing works for Raving Brands
Expanding national franchise leverages its buying power for multiple concepts
By Joan M. Lang
October 01, 2006
Raving Brands has good reason to pay attention to seafood.
The Atlanta-based company has nine different fast-casual
concepts in its portfolio, including Moe's Southwest Grill,
Mama Fu's Asian House and Boneheads Grilled Fish and Piri Piri
Chicken, where about 65 percent of total sales are
Raving Brands is also one of the fastest-growing franchise
companies in the country, with plans in place for an aggressive
quadrupling to more than 2,000 units across the country by the
end of this decade. With all but a few of each concept in the
hands of franchisees, the company must keep its systems
buttoned up tight.
"The whole idea is to simplify," says Seth Salzman, senior
VP and chief "brand hand" for Boneheads, who started with
Raving Brands as VP of operations for the flagship Moe's
Southwest Grill. "We want to create brands that really resonate
with customers and are franchisable, so that we can help the
entrepreneurs who join us as franchisees make money. And that
means everything's got to fit together and run smoothly."
Key to the success of all of the brands - which also include
such limited-selection concepts as Planet Smoothie and PJ's
Coffee - is a mix-and-match menu strategy that lets customers
select which protein to build their meal on. At Moe's, patrons
choose among burritos, tacos, fajitas and so on, with a choice
of chicken, steak, ground beef, fish or tofu. Mama Fu's fans
can enjoy made-to-order pan-Asian stir fries like Red Thai
Curry, fried rice, pad Thai or teriyaki with chicken, beef,
shrimp or tofu and veggies. Doc Green's build-your-own salads
can be topped with an array of proteins, from grilled
portabello mush- rooms and crispy chicken tenders to grilled
sirloin steak and chilled poached salmon.
"That's what our customers love about us," says Daniel
Barash, who has his hands on all the menus as director of new
product development. "They can get what they want, and because
everything is made to order, they know it will be fresh."
The Boneheads franchise - one of the newer concepts, with a
2005 debut - is the company's foray into fast-casual seafood.
The menu centers on simple grilled fish and chicken
preparations, with a special nod to the piri piri pepper, a
flavorful South African spice that is the core of the concept's
proprietary seasoning blend and sauces. Selections include
charbroiled salmon, tilapia, mahimahi, shrimp, grouper and
crispy fish and chips, with a choice of topping (pineapple
salsa, cucumber-lime and yogurt, sautéed piri piri mushrooms)
and dipping sauce (lemon and herb); and grilled Piri Piri
Chicken with any sauce. There are appetizers, such as Piri Piri
Shrimp, Crispy Calamari and peel-and-eat shrimp, as well as
sandwiches, tacos and salads with a choice of protein.
Boneheads drives the rest of the Raving Brands stable in the
seafood category. Although just five units strong at this
point, the concept gives the company a strong incentive to
leverage species into the other menus, where seafood exists as
an option rather than a specialty of the house.
Raving Brands just added a Baja-style fish taco to the menu
at Moe's, which has 330 units in three-dozen states. The item
is a variation of the popular fish taco introduced at
Boneheads; the fish, farm-raised basa from Vietnam, is also
available as a protein option in Moe's other specialties.
"We put fish tacos on the menu because we wanted another
protein option that was affordable for us and for our
customers, and because as we moved into the Southwest and
California, we were running into more competitors with fish
tacos," explains Barash.
Tested for four months in 10 markets, Moe's fish taco was
rolled out system-wide at the beginning of the summer and
exceeded sales expectations.
"We're selling an average of 30 pounds of whitefish in each
unit across the board," says Barash. "And that's just with
The Raving Brands team, a fluid core of foodservice
professionals who work across all the different concepts as
need dictates, investigated a number of species for Moe's fish
"We tried 10 or 12 different kinds of fish at the price
point we can afford," says Salzman. "Cod, pollock, tilapia; we
hadn't been familiar with basa, but it outperformed every other
species in terms of flavor, quality and holding."
Now, basa is used wherever a menu cites "fish," as in the
fish and chips and the fish taco at Boneheads.
"It's a great product," says Barash. "It's mild and flaky
and keeps its moisture when held."
With a fast-casual menu, this last characteristic is
particularly important. "When we do cuttings, we not only
blind-taste the product, we also put it through a typical
holding period before tasting it, so we can see how it will
really perform in operations."
The testing is part of the commitment that Raving Brands has
made to its 300-plus franchisees. Menu items, procedures and
systems have all been rigorously designed and put in place,
allowing the individual owner-operators to hit the ground
"Because of our growing buying power, it makes sense to use
as many products as possible across all the brands," notes
Barash, "especially with something like seafood, which we bring
in only in the frozen state."
Grouper, the No. 1 fish on Boneheads' menu, is being tested
as an option at Mama Fu's. The company is also looking at
purchasing identical shrimp across all the operations, "as long
as we can do it without compromising the integrity of the
individual menus," says Salzman.
Purchasing is consolidated wherever possible. The company
counts on its distributor-partners in each major market to
bring in product to a central point, coordinating shipping from
a group of preferred suppliers and delivery to the different
"We will change the spec on something popular like shrimp in
to be able to use the same source across all the
different brands," notes Salzman.
"We have procedures for everything, and that's particularly
important when you're working with a product like seafood," he
adds. "We want to make it as idiot-proof as possible, so that
we keep things simple, safe and at the highest possible level
It's safe to say that there will be more seafood on Raving
Brands' menus, and more concepts in the portfolio that sell
"We're looking at all kinds of species," says Barash, "and
we're constantly toying with ideas." LTO's [limited time
offers] are a distinct possibility on a test basis, and it
wouldn't be out of the question to see calamari or mahimahi
making the transition from Boneheads to some of the other
brands - or for additional species, such as scallops or
mussels, to show up on any of the menus.
"As long as it fits within our system and can work in a
simple and efficient kitchen setup, we are very interested in
seafood," says Salzman.
SFlb Contributing Editor Joan M. Lang lives in Cape