NRN speaks with president and CEO John Longstreet on the brands growth strategy and positioning
Quaker Steak & Lube this month has made its first push into the new market of Texas, opening a company location in Carrollton and a franchised unit in Waco.
The Sharon, Pa.-based casual-dining brand opened the 7,300-square-foot Waco store, the company’s 51st, on Wednesday and the Carrollton unit on Sept. 5, with more units planned in the state.
John Longstreet, president and chief executive of Quaker Steak, said, “We’re really committed to expanding in Texas. I like to call it ‘stampeding across Texas with Quaker Steak & Lube.’” The company is also expanding into the Dakotas and New Jersey.
The 342-seat Waco Lube continues the automotive theme that the brand is recognized for, including three Harley motorcycles hung from the ceiling, a 1972 Corvette StringRay and a Tony Stewart NASCAR.
The concept, which has a check average of about $16 per person with beverage, also features a wide variety of televisions for sports viewing.
Longstreet spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about the move into Texas, social media and the brand’s menu changes.
What have you done differently for the Texas market?
We have an insert on the menu. We have the availability to do two inserts anyway. This one has something new to this brand:-fried steak and chicken-fried chicken. That’s going in both Carrollton and Waco. I’ve liked it so much, we might have to take it systemwide on the next printing. It’s a great item and has great food costs.
How about other proteins?
We also have a few new steaks going on the Texas insert. Even though our middle name is “Steak,” we have 103 items on the menu and about 39 percent of our sales are in chicken wings. Steaks have not been a staple for us, but we’re making a little more of a commitment to the steak program in Texas.
And for beverages?
We’ve added the Texas-alicious Lube-aritas. We’ve always been big on margaritas, but we’ve expanded our offering a little bit for Texas. That will just be in DFW to start.
How about unit size?
We’ve been skinny-ing down the full-size model over the past several years. Our new prototype is about 7,700 square feet and about 350 seats. That’s what we’re putting in Waco. Carrollton is what we call our “Power Lube,” which is an even smaller version of that at about 6,500 square feet and about 250-275 seats. So we basically have two versions we do now. The full-size is called our “Classic II.” The Power Lube can be anywhere from 4,700 square feet, which is our smallest, to up to about 6,500.
Is Carrollton new construction?
It’s our first freestanding Power Lube, and it’s new construction. That version was originally intended to go into a shopping center end cap. We already have two of those, one in Morton, Ohio, and one in Lakewood, Ohio. They’ve done so well that we came up with this freestanding version.
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What states are you in now?
We’re in 15 states. The biggest preponderance of Quaker Steak & Lubes is in Ohio, and Pennsylvania is second. We have four in Virginia, and New York and Wisconsin both have three each. Indiana has two. We are also in Illinois, Tennessee, South Carolina, Florida, Michigan, Iowa, Colorado and Texas. New Jersey opens in October. Fargo, N.D., opens in December.
You are now at 51 units. How many are you adding this year?
Seven or eight more will open by the end of the year, including Carrollton and Waco.
What’s your ratio of company-owned units to franchised?
Nine are company-owned and Carrollton makes the tenth.
What advantages does the Sun Belt market offer?
We’re excited to be going in the Dallas market. It’s a Sun Belt market, and we really like that. We opened outside of Clearwater, Fla., several years ago, and that’s been terrific for us. We’re anxious and eager to get back into the Sun Belt market. And DFW is a Tier One market. Also, Dallas is one of the most competitive restaurant markets in the country right now. It’s a big part of our strategy to develop in Texas. We have a site under construction in Plano and plan to open in Houston as well.
What are you doing in social media?
Quaker Steak is a very social brand. People talk about us a lot. I just started on Twitter. I did a CEO Lunch Chat on Tuesday. It allowed Twitter users to ask questions of the CEO [Longstreet’s Twitter handle is @QSLCEO and the hashtag was #CEOLunchChat.] In our first chat, most of the questions came from our agency. But I hope that, over time, people pick up on it more. It really can help build our brand.
What’s your demographic?
We have about 51 percent female in a motor-sports-themed restaurant, and a pretty even distribution of age from 2 to 82. The co-founders really worked hard for the 20 years in trying to be all things to all people. They were revenue hogs, and didn’t want to give up anything. They were open 365 days a year, and we maximize both lunch and dinner dayparts as well as late-night.
What are some of things that set Quaker Steak apart from other casual-dining brands?
One thing is we have 21 or 22 different flavors of sauce. They are so good that I like to say you can put them on your shoe and it would taste good.
And your service model?
We make no effort in our units to hide service stations or enclose the kitchen so people can see what’s going on. Our guests become part of the team. It’s very much a “Cheers” [television show] environment. Our servers instead of wearing uniforms wear Lube t-shirts of their choice. Some have new ones; some have vintage ones. If you are going to blur the lines, you don’t want to have uniforms. We’ve found 53 percent of our guests in surveys we’ve done say they like to go to the Lube for the fun experience.