There is no such thing as a quick success. Yes, my fast-casual pizzeria Urban Bricks has grown to 12 locations, with some 120 locations in development, in the three years we have been in business. But the insights that make our business successful–knowing the importance of quick service and catering to millennial guests and young families–come from years of trial and error.
I was 22 when I opened my first franchise, which eventually led to a group that included Marble Slab Creamery, Great American Cookies, and Subway. When searching to find a fast-casual pizza chain to open, I decided to start my own pizza restaurant instead, and here we are. After finding success and an opportunity for growth, we made the decision to franchise Urban Bricks and focus exclusively on this new brand. On May 2, we will celebrate our third anniversary with our locations across the U.S. and Canada, plus a forthcoming franchise in Panama.
Part of the reason that we’ve found success has been that guests can have their orders within five minutes.
Coming from Subway, I realized that time is of the essence for consumers. We respect people’s time, so as America is getting more and more on the go, we realize that people not only want to have healthier, fresher food, but they don’t want to wait for it. Within five minutes, you’re in and out. Your pizza is baked in two, and the other three minutes is on you, and potentially even quicker depending on how long you take to pick toppings for your pizza, panini or salad. It’s all build-your-own and it’s all one simple price.
We’re so fast that we started opening locations with drive-thrus; we’re about to open our fourth later this year. We’re the only fast-casual brand to offer delivery and a drive-thru experience like this. That’s how fast and how confident we are.
The inspiration for the drive-thrus came from my own wife and kids. I was tired of seeing Chick-fil-A charges on my credit card bill when we have an Urban Bricks right next door. My wife’s response? “I’m not going to go with your monkeys anywhere unless there’s a drive-thru.” It got me thinking, “Well, we can do that.”
We decided to open a corporate store with a drive-thru, complete with glass walls to the outside so that guests waiting in their cars could watch their food prepared and have the same experience as guests on the inside.
Catering to young families like mine is part of the reason we’ve been successful. We even have a high-tech hand-washing station by the lobby where customers can wash up before eating, and it’s a kid magnet. I’ve never seen so many kids want to wash their hands. Millennials are another important consumer group.
The majority of consumers out there are millennials. They’re the ones spending the money, so if you want to survive in any kind of business, not just the restaurant business, you need to talk to millennials. If you don’t, you’re missing out on your customer pool.
“If you’re a restaurateur and you haven’t tied into online ordering or a loyalty program, then you should wake up and get with the times.” -Sammy Aldeeb
From our tagline “Brickin’ Fast,” to cool, funky T-shirts, to our decor, it’s very millennial-driven, very fun, and very edgy. Millennials like open concepts, so we made our kitchen completely open. We wanted to serve craft beer and local beer, as many restaurants do, but we stepped it up a notch with a tap system that fills beer from the bottom up. And instead of a boring conveyor belt oven, we imported a badass Italian oven that rotates the pies, so you get flavor, seasonings, and a show. Everything we do is about the show. It’s all been thought out, and designed not only by an architect firm, but also by a marketing team.
One mistake that restaurants make is thinking that the restaurant experience is only about the food. The American family wants to enjoy the experience, and people want new and fresh. If you’re not going to keep up with the trends, whether it’s menu trends or paint on the walls, then you’re going to quickly become boring. We haven’t been around long enough to do this yet, but I guarantee we’ll remodel our stores every five to seven years.
We also understand that technology is huge. If you’re a restaurateur and you haven’t tied into online ordering or a loyalty program, then you should wake up and get with the times. You see it across industries: Amazon has taken over the retail world through technology, and Netflix has changed the way we watch movies. If you’re not going to integrate technology into your restaurant business, you’re a goner.
We have been ahead of the curve with many of our business decisions, and we’re confident they’re paying off.
Right down the street from our first drive-thru Urban Bricks location, Chipotle opened one of its first drive-thrus. Chipotle was one of the leaders in the fast-casual space, and they’ve always been a leader in many ways. I had a lot of push-back from a lot of professionals, experts, and serious restaurateurs about my decision to add a drive-thru to a fast-casual mode. To see one of the most successful fast-casual restaurants out there doing it years after Urban Bricks makes us feel good. It makes us feel like we’re on the right path.