4food, a quick-service-alternative restaurant in New York City that interacts with customers through a variety of technologies, has signed a master franchisee agreement for Japan and is looking for additional sites and running a pop-up establishment in the U.S.
Michael Shuman, 4food cofounder and managing partner of the multilevel restaurant that opened in August 2010, said ForFood Japan Co. Ltd. is the master franchisee for Japan. He described his company’s first international franchisee as “an equity collective of entrepreneurs in the foodservice, technology and health-and-wellness spheres.”
Shuman said some logistics and strategy issues tied to the Japanese venture are still being worked out, such as those dealing with the selection of local suppliers and non-equity business partners, as well as the refinement of site-selection criteria for flagship locations. But he added that he anticipates the opening of the first 4food location in Japan to take place in the third or fourth quarter of 2013 in either Osaka or Tokyo.
The 4food concept is known for its signature (W)holeburgers, which are based on meat and vegetable patties shaped in rings that can be filled with different Veggiescoops, such as shaved and roasted Brussels sprouts or butternut squash-garlic mash. As part of its self-appointed mission to “de-junk fast food,” it also offers rice and salad bowls adorned with sandwich makings; vegetable, grain and potato-based sides; soft drinks; sangria and beer.
The operation uses an in-restaurant digital menu and marketing displays, at-table tablet computers for ordering when customers don’t want to use the counter, and such online software as the Build-A-Burger interface. That online tool lets customers assemble personalized sandwiches, rice bowls and salads that they can then name and market to other consumers in a bid to earn “4food dollars” purchase credits.
Also key to the concept is its “We Know You Better” technology for collecting and using 4food account holders’ profile information and ordering histories to make customer-specific food recommendations aimed at helping guests reach specific nutrition or weight-related goals.
“The customization and menu format [for Japan] will mirror our concept,” Shuman said. He explained that while there will be ingredients used in Japan that won’t be used in the U.S., in accordance with 4food’s philosophy of using seasonal and local ingredients, sharing food concepts across locations means the chain “will be building a truly global menu over time and through [unit] growth.”
U.S. expansion efforts
On the home front, Shuman said, 4food has begun searching for sites for the smaller “spoke” locations that will be developed around the original flagship hub of 5,500 square feet. Shuman said the original expansion vision called for spoke sites to be from 2,500 to 3,000 square feet to accommodate significant dine-in business, as well as carry-out and delivery sales, but now also encompasses locations of from 1,000 to 1,400 square feet where take-out and delivery will be the primary activities.
Shuman said the initial search for spoke restaurant locations is focused on a number of areas in New York City, including those in and around Union Square or the area between Union Square and The Village, Columbus Circle, downtown and the financial district.
According to Shuman, 4food recently availed itself of the opportunity to create a temporary pop-up restaurant — with a limited footprint and menu — as a testing ground for its next expansion steps. The pop-up is called (W)hole Burger Bar, and it is situated in an UrbanSpace-managed marketplace on Washington Street in New York’s trendy meatpacking district. Its two-month lease will run out at the end of October.
Lacking amenities such as Internet connectivity, the pop-up relies on a personal computer embedded in its service bar to manage content for its digital menu and marketing board, Shuman said. And to leverage its user base, he said, “We use a QR code on printed receipts and concept brochures to drive customers to our flagship location and to our website.”
Despite (W)hole Burger Bar’s temporary nature and test-lab role, Shuman said the business “will be minimally profitable beyond cash-flow break-even within a two-month period, with impressive revenue per square foot."