On the Border also owes some of its turnaround to what it saw in the marketplace, which is the fact that tech-forward brands are the ones experiencing the most success. So the chain redesigned its website to be more consumer-friendly, partnered with Olo to enhance the online ordering experience, rolled out an app in the latter part of 2021, and launched a Borders Rewards Program powered by Paytronix. There are now more than 500,000 loyalty members.
Although much has been accomplished, the job is never-ending, Ramey says.
“Tim and I were just having a discussion about what comes next and how do we make it easier for people to order from the table—maybe our next step in the journey?” the CMO says. “But that's how we're catching up is being a little bit more tech-forward.”
At the time of the Brinker sale, On the Border had 162 stores nationwide. The brand has since slimmed to 116 (109 corporate and seven franchises). But now with clear momentum, the restaurant is looking to once again spark expansion nationwide.
When Ward came onboard in 2020, franchising was dark; the FDD wasn’t updated and On the Border wasn’t considering any new operators. In the past two years, however, the CEO and his leadership team flipped the proverbial switch. A franchised location is scheduled to open this summer in Anchorage, Alaska, a new market for the brand. The overall pipeline includes more than 10 stores in various stages of development, with new units coming to Denver and Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska.
On the Border is also piloting ghost kitchens with REEF, and expanding internationally, particularly in South Korea. The master franchisee in the country wants to open 120 restaurants in the next 10 years. Ward expects growth to be roughly 80 percent franchise going forward, and that’s because he believes operators can open at a faster rate in their respective markets and help On the Border fill whitespace.
A majority of the chain’s comeback deals with turning back the clock, but Ramey knows it’s impossible to return to day one, and that’s not what the company wants anyway. It’s more about moving forward, but never forgetting.
“It's all about, sure you want to be as great as you were when you open your doors, but also maybe just slightly better,” Ramey says. “That was the thinking is that now every time you come into an On the Border—as best as we can and of course it's a journey—we're delivering an experience that's just as great as the first day we opened our doors.”