Sometimes a company needs to contract before it can expand. Since 2013, Boston's Restaurant & Sports Bar has undergone a large shift in both its physical locations and its corporate operations in an effort to expand their business. The family-friendly restaurant and sports bar concept, the sister company to Boston Pizza, a ubiquitous Canadian franchise with a 52-year history and over 390 locations, wants to start matching its success up north with its American and Mexican counterparts.
"I've been with Boston's for about two-and-half years, and during that time we have worked very hard to professionalize and upgrade our support team here," says Troy Cooper, COO of Boston's Restaurant & Sports Bar. "My background has been in rapid expansion and turnaround. I've been in the Dallas area in casual dining for a number years, so I had a pretty big network, and as we needed various players to come in, we've been very lucky in getting the right ones in."
When he arrived at Boston's in September 2013, the company had a number of underperforming locations among their 40 U.S. units, and given his operator background, Cooper began actively investigating each one, looking at real estate and demographic issues, and speaking with individual owners. "We visited with franchise partners if their locations weren't conducive to good business, and in many cases they ended up leaving," Cooper says. The company ended up closing 10 units in total.
Boston's then assembled "the right profile of what we wanted going forward, people and the locations, and then we just committed to staying within those bounds," Cooper says. "Sometimes that can be tougher when you're doing it because we had to say no a lot more than we said yes to get ourselves on the right track."
Boston's did not sell franchises for a couple of years but simply took orders. The company would speak to people that had an interest in being franchise partners, but they were not actively pursuing such opportunities. Now, the sales staff has increased from one to four people, "so it's just a scale issue," Cooper says. "I've worked with rapidly expanding concepts in the past, and once you have the model right it's just a matter of how many people you have implementing that plan."
Big changes have happened at the corporate level as well. When Cooper first arrived, Brad Bevill, vice president of marketing, had already been there a few months and was doing a solid job. Through Cooper's strong industry network, other key players were brought in gradually, including Tim Matousek, vice presidentof operations (2013), Bob Hall, director of supply chain (2014), Sherilyn Johnson, director of IT (2015), and CFO Rick Lauro (2016)."These guys all have experience with big companies and have worked in the growth phases of them, and I'm real proud of the team that's come together," says Cooper. Hall and Johnson had previously worked at Brinker, Matousek at Outback, and Rick Lauro at Coca-Cola.
On the culinary side of things, Boston's recently brought in Andy Whittman (corporate chef) and Trey Pease (director of training), and they have been refining their menu. Cooper says they have reduced their food costs by about 4 percent. "We make more things in house, we're a little bit closer to scratch then we are on the premade side of things, and it has improved our quality, the pride level, and certainly the cost," he explains.
A new Boston's menu is forthcoming in October. Along with new legislation that requires the chain to list nutritional information, it is adding some healthy options to the menu, including a Veggie Quinoa Burger, Roasted Corn and Black Bean Salsa, and Hummus, among others. It also currently offers gluten-free pizzas. Additionally, Boston’s is adding a deep-dish option.
"We're ready to grow," Cooper says. "We've been spending the time blocking and tackling, refining, getting ourselves into shape, and now we've got the sales team on and we're ready to go out to do what we've been working on the last couple of years."
Boston's has big aspirations. After contracting by 10 units, it seeks to expand to 100 locations in the U.S. and Mexico by the end of 2018. (It currently has 11 locations south of the border and a corporate team in place that is connected to local vendors and people.) The company also does not plan to stop at that number. "We feel that at 100 stores, you're a legitimate concept out there performing well and you start to really get the economies of scale," Cooper says. He believes they could grow to 200 to 250 locations in the U.S.
"We feel good because we have a big delivery component of our business that we're just starting to get going in the U.S.," Cooper says. "That's going to be very big for people, being able to have the casual dining type experience along with pizza delivered. We're excited about that. We have a lot of folks that are continuing to experience Boston's for the first time and enjoy it."
Cooper feels that now is a good moment for Boston's with the combination of pizza with casual dining, especially at a time when he feels that casual dining feels a bit tired. "There are a lot of legacy brands that have been around for a long time, but there are a lot of people that still want the casual dining fare and there aren't as many options as there were," Cooper observes. "We want to be on the top of our game when people are looking for that type of experience."
By Bryan Reesman