With unit economics improving and growth plans in the works, The Krystal Co. is turning its attention to its menu.

The Chattanooga, Tenn.-based quick-service operator tested a pork chop slider last year, and in the spring introduced the Stacker, a double-meat, double-cheese version of its classic square Krystal burger.

Vice president of menu strategy Stan Dorsey is leading the innovation. A chain restaurant menu veteran, Dorsey started his culinary career at Krystal in the late 1970s and stayed until the early 1990s, when he went on to work in research and development for Vicorp Restaurants, Morrison Restaurants, followed by Popeyes and Church’s Chicken.

Dorsey joined Focus Brands in 2005 and was responsible for menu creation for Cinnabon, Carvel Ice Cream, Seattle’s Best Coffee International and Moe’s Southwest Grill.

In April 2013, he returned to 330-unit Krystal. He recently discussed his work there with Nation’s Restaurant News.

What have you been working on?

A large percentage of what I’ve been doing since I came back is improvement of our current products and line extensions. We have some pretty cool platforms that I think we can do more with before we get into whole new product lines. Those are Pups [hot dogs], Chiks [chicken sandwiches], and Krystals [burgers] and breakfast.

Krystal serves breakfast?

Yes. Unfortunately that’s what a lot of people ask us. We’ve served breakfast for 82 years, but it hasn’t been properly marketed for decades. You can get a full plate breakfast [breakfast meat, eggs, biscuit, grits etc.]. We also have a Sunriser that we introduced in the late ’80s. It’s a square egg on a square bun with a Southern style sausage patty. It’s around $1.29 or $1.39, but we usually have a combo with a beverage, so it ends up being about $1 when all is said and done.

What are your priorities right now?

One of the promotions we did last year that has become extremely popular is our 5 for $5. You can pick small fries, a drink, a Chik, a cheese Krystal, any of the Pups and get five of them for $5. Guests liked that because they knew walking in that their bill was going to be $5 no matter what they picked. So we’re coming up with extensions that we can add to that as LTOs so there’s something knew when they come in. I’m hoping we’ll get to a point where we have a new Pup, Chik and Krystal rotating in and out all the time.

What extensions are you working on?

It could be anything from a spicy Krystal to a mushroom Swiss Krystal. About 70 variations have gone through ideation and we just did an in-office pick to prioritize them. We’re running some of those through a concept test. The ones that come through that we’ll start developing into a prototype.

Is that how your development process works — ideate, prioritize, do a concept test and then make a prototype?

Yes. Then we field-test it in few restaurants, make refinements. Then we do a central location test, then a market test.

Is a concept test when you ask people if they’d like to eat a spicy Krystal or a mushroom Swiss Krystal?

Yes. We have them read a menu description and say whether it sounds like something they’d like to eat. We can get a lot of feedback quickly because it’s all Internet-based.

And a central location test?

That’s focus groups, or getting people in and sitting them at a computer, having them try the food and filling out a form about whether they’d buy it and how much they’d pay for it.

How are the Stackers doing?

They’re doing very good, and we learned a lot from it. One thing we learned is that instead of introducing them as a brand-new product, probably the better way to go was to introduce them as a line extension of the Krystal — as a Krystal with double meat and extra cheese. That way you don’t have to do missionary work in the beginning, introducing people to what it is. They already understand a Krystal with extra meat.


So you can leverage the name of Krystal, which they already understand?

Exactly. It’s easier to upsell — “Would you like a double-meat, double cheese Krystal?” rather than, “Would you like a Stacker?” So we’ll probably reintroduce it as that.

And you’re also working on breakfast?

Breakfast at Krystal in the past was a very important part of the business. We’re looking at some things that were done in the past that from a sales standpoint weren’t probably that customer-friendly. We’re seeing if there’s a better way to do things — a better vendor out there who can improve the quality of the product, or things we can do to the recipe that we weren’t able to do when the product was first introduced. We’re looking at ways to improve its quality and deliver it fast. Our drive-thru percentage is in the 60 percent to 70 percent range, so speed of service is always a big deal, but without compromising quality. You can definitely improve speed of service by compromising on quality of food, because the line gets shorter and shorter.

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@penton.com
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