Food from each of Inspire's restaurants is on display (except Dunkin'), which is where this opportunity splits apart from pre-COVID days. One case study in action—for fast casual Rusty Taco, it was the brand's first entry into the Atlanta market.
The interior features a segmented kitchen and cross-trained workforce designed to fulfill orders across multiple brands. Compared to five stand-alone restaurants, Alliance's setup reduces labor requirements by 54 percent, cuts square footage needs by 19 percent, decreases equipment costs by 45 percent, and slices energy consumption by more than 50 percent. Catering to third-party delivery drivers, the ghost kitchen also touts a lounge with heated pickup lockers, free WiFi, charging stations, and complimentary Dunkin' coffee.
In addition to offering convenience and greater access to well-known brands, Alliance has the ability to serve as a testing ground for new labor models, kitchen layouts, and menu items. Buffalo Wild Wings will use the ghost kitchen to test Flippy Wings, a robotic chicken wing frying solution from Miso Robotics that increases food production speeds by 10–20 percent. After experimentation concludes in Alliance, Inspire said the robot will move to a standalone Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants in 2022.
Clearly, this is only early innings of how Inspire’s network could evolve now that the digital gates have swung open—Stephanie Sentell, Inspire's senior vice president of restaurant operations and innovation, told CNBC that the company's digital sales have more than doubled to excess of $6 billion.
Inspire said Monday it “experienced a transformative 2021,” as the company completed the integration of Dunkin’ Brands. (It purchased Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins in December 2020 for $11.3 billion—the largest restaurant deal dollar figure since 3G Capital LP, Burger King Worldwide Inc., acquired Tim Hortons for $12.64 billion in August 2014. Panera Bread follows at $7.5 billion, a price paid by JAB Holdings in 2017).
Citing “the benefits of this integration and Inspire’s commitment to a tightly integrated shared services model,” the company generated more than $30 billion in total global system sales last year. Now the second-largest restaurant group in the U.S.—that became true when Dunkin’ closed—Inspire opened more than 1,300 restaurants globally in 2021. More than 500 of those came in the U.S., and the company presently sits at 22,000 locations stateside and nearly 32,000 around the globe.
“Over the last year, our team has worked tirelessly to leverage each brand’s growth potential and implement programs with the goal of making them stronger than they would be on their own. This commitment has contributed to our development success this year while positioning us to further accelerate growth in 2022 and beyond,” Brown said in a statement. “It’s never been a better time to franchise with Inspire Brands as each of our brands have a significant runway for growth domestically and internationally.”
To the earlier, broader point, Inspire said its “differentiated group of concepts has allowed its franchisee network to diversify its portfolios with complementary brands, all backed by the strength of the Inspire platform.”
Essentially, Inspire continues to foster cross-brand growth with collective scale and resources (finance, tech, real estate, etc.).
While Inspire, a private company, did not divulge exact figures, it said it “delivered record top-line results across all brands” last year.
This manifested through modular constructions, drive-thru-only models (Jimmy John’s), and digital-only restaurants (Dunkin’) among traditional builds.