The restaurant industry is full of cautionary tales of buzzy new brands exploding on the scene only to become unwieldy as they grow too quickly. Opening too few new stores is no better. What’s the key to a healthy store-opening rate? 

In its Fast Casual Insider podcast series, the National Restaurant Association asked senior execs from successful brands to share their business strategies and lessons learned as they’ve grown their companies. 

Nick Vojnovich, president, Little Greek Fresh Grill

Nick Vojnovich President Little Greek Fresh Grill
 

Before taking the helm at Palm Harbor, Fla.-based Little Greek, Vojnovich spent 12 years overseeing the growth of Beef ‘O’Brady’s from a 30-unit franchise to a 270-unit chain. Little Greek has nearly doubled in size since 2015.

One thing I’ve learned is to watch your growth, especially in the early stages. Every single store counts. You can’t afford to make a mistake at that point because it could ruin you. You could go out of business. If store No. 6 doesn't work, it's not a deal killer, but if store No. 2 doesn't work, that will take you down.

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Don Fox, CEO, Firehouse of America LLC

Firehouse Subs Restaurant Exterior
 

Fox, a restaurant industry veteran with 45 years of experience in the QSR and fast-casual segments, spent 23 with Burger King before joining Firehouse Subs in 2003 — first as director of franchise compliance, then COO, and ultimately, CEO of the Jacksonville, Fla., company.

“We’re keeping a careful eye on how we define our franchisee trade areas. We expanded the protected trade radius for our franchised restaurants from a one-mile protective radius to two miles. Franchisees didn't ask for that, but we did it proactively because we thought it was fair to do. It is such a competitive environment. The approach is quite unconventional, something most franchisors wouldn’t do.”

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Paul Damico, CEO, Naf Naf Grill

Naf Naf Restaurant Exterior

Prior to joining fast-growing, fast-casual Naf Naf Grill, Chicago, in 2017, Damico headed Moe’s Southwest Grill, part of Focus Brand’s restaurant portfolio, overseeing expansion from 220 to 700 units.

We've got to continue innovating around our culinary identity to drive awareness of what the brand is and where we think we can take it. We've stabilized our company's store operation; it's going to be all about franchising going forward. We are going to get this brand into hundreds of locations in the next couple of years. But to do that, we've got to make sure we can scale our team to support those franchisees wherever they may be. It's a pure growth play for us. 

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Listen to the 10-episode series for more answers on business growth, smart operations and critical labor issues including recruitment and retention. Fast Casual Insider is available on our website, Spotify, Google Podcasts and Apple Podcasts.