Mama Fu’s Asian House debuted this month a smaller version of its flex-casual restaurant that is aimed squarely at the delivery and carryout markets.

Austin, Texas-based Mama Fu’s, which has 18 units that offer a fast-casual format during the day and table service at night, opened the 1,350-square-foot unit in Austin on April 14.

The restaurant has 10 seats inside and 10 outside, compared with a typical 3,000-square-foot unit’s 90 seats. A franchisee is expected later this year to open a second unit of the downsized Mama Fu’s near the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Randy Murphy, chief executive of Mama Fu’s, said the new unit meets the demands of an off-premise trend the company has noticed in the past several years.

“Over the last few years, one of the things we’ve seen in our brand is the growth in off-premise sales traffic — takeout, catering and delivery,” Murphy told Nation’s Restaurant News. “It’s gone up from about 25 percent of our total business five or six years ago to almost 50 percent now. It’s doubled.”

In addition, as the economy improves, the competition for restaurant real estate has gotten stiffer, he said.

The new prototype offers a a “grab-and-go” cooler with new items“We’re in the middle of a renaissance of restaurant growth, and we’re all looking for the same sites with the same type of customer,” Murphy said. “The 3,000-square-foot end cap is very tough to get, and it’s slowing our growth. We thought if we were able to shrink the box a little bit, we’d not only be able to grow faster, but we’d be able to accommodate our customers’ needs.”

Murphy sees the ideal size of the delivery/carry-out unit at about 1,500 square feet and 25 to 35 seats, to 2,000 square feet and 45 to 50 seats.

He added that the smaller size would improve unit economics in terms of occupancy costs, utility costs and labor. “It’s the same exact kitchen and can do the same volume, but now it’s a little bit smaller,” Murphy said.

Customers peruse digital menu boards before placing their orderThe unit also offers a “grab-and-go” cooler that offers new, spur-of-the-moment menu items, such as shrimp spring rolls with spicy peanut sauce, housemade Szechuan peanuts, soba noodle salad with ahi, and Thai curry chicken salad, as well as bottled drinks.

Murphy said the delivery ticket is larger, at about $28 per ticket, than the average ticket for the system, which is about $20.

“We want to get our business to where a third of it is dine in, a third of it take-out and a third of it delivery,” he said.

Unlike the larger versions of Mama Fu’s, the smaller unit will not serve beer, wine and sake.

“We didn’t want to incur the costs of liability and training and inventory,” Murphy said.

Contact Ron Ruggless at ronald.ruggless@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless