NRN profiles one of the four 2012 Hot Concepts award winners
The Hot Concepts awards are given each year by Nation’s Restaurant News to young, growing chains that embody the perseverance and entrepreneurial spirit of the restaurant industry. Here, we profile one of the four 2012 Hot Concepts award winners.
The dream of every restaurant owner is to give customers exactly what they want, but co-founders Paul Motenko and Jerry Hennessy believe Stacked: Food Well Built just might be giving it to them.
Since the first of its three units opened in May 2011 in Torrance, Calif., Stacked has been using tabletop iPads to serve up menu items completely customized to diners’ individual specifications. Each of the three “fast-casual-meets-casual-dining” restaurants has 60 to 70 iPads that diners use to choose every aspect of their menu items, order and then pay their check.
• A look inside Stacked from BJ's founders
Full-service-style hosts — called concierges — greet, guide and deliver orders along with a healthy dose of hospitality.
“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great?’” Motenko said. “Customization in a way you can’t customize in any other restaurant.”
The idea for the concept first came about in 2009 when Motenko and Hennessy — who were also founders of the BJs Restaurant chain — were looking for their next big venture.
“First was the food. All about the food,” Motenko said. “Customization came second.”
The menu, which includes some of the duo’s favorite foods, features burgers, salads, pizza, and macaroni and cheese. Each category includes 30 to 40 options — such as toppings, breads and sauces — that diners can choose from to custom build their selections. Less adventurous diners also can choose from six to eight signature items in each category that can be ordered as is or modified. Customers are charged only for the ingredients included in their item. Check averages range between $12 and $13.
Endless menu possibilities can sometimes lead to order inaccuracy and slow service. However, those problems have been circumvented by keeping the menu simple.
“Many restaurants have broad menus,” Motenko said. “We narrowed our focus to items we feel are most popular in America: burgers, salad, pizza, [macaroni and cheese]. By maintaining a narrow focus on the menu, we’ve been able to get good accuracy and speed.”
One of the challenges in making the Stacked concept work was identifying the right technology to execute it. Motenko and Hennessy had created the concept, but couldn’t find touch-screen devices that were user friendly or responsive enough to meet their standards. The solution fell into their laps in 2010 when Apple released the iPad.
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“It was not doable without a touch screen that was high quality,” Hennessy said. “The iPad gave us the ability to have each restaurant serve [an average] of 5,500 people per week without any frustration at all,” Motenko added. But perhaps an even bigger challenge was not knowing whether the public would embrace their unique ordering system.
“The biggest risk we took was in developing the concept,” Motenko said. “It hadn’t been done before.”
Despite their early concerns, the concept has proven to be quite popular. Motenko and Hennessy said Stacked’s three restaurants — only one of which has been open a full year — have estimated annualized sales of $11 million. And additional locations are planned, both in California and beyond. Existing locations average about 6,000 square feet each.
STACKED AT A GLANCE
Market segment: Fast casual/casual dining
No. of units: 3
States where located: California
Systemwide sales: Estimated $11 million
Average unit volume: Approximately $00 per square foot
Average check: $12-$13
Year founded: 2011
Target markets: Areas with educated, middle-to upper-income adults
Method of growth/funding: Private investors
The success of Stacked isn’t a surprise to William Fisher, owner of Quicksilver Software, the firm that developed the restaurant’s intuitive iPad user interface.
“I liked these guys from the moment I met them,” Fisher said. “They walked in our office and said, ‘We have a vision and we’re going to change the way restaurants work.’ They had a high level of energy and dedication for getting it right.”
And while much has been made in the press about the restaurant’s use of the iPads, even the software developers said technology is not the star of the show at Stacked.
“The entire restaurant is built around the technology,” Fisher said. “And yet the technology is not what matters. People don’t think, ‘I’m using an iPad.’ They think, ‘I can order anything.’”