Mad Dogs go out in the midday sun, according to the 1931 poem by Noel Coward, and the modern day Mad Dogs British Pub is about to expand under the suns of many states.
The San Antonio, Texas-based restaurant not only made it through the past two years intact but it’s done it well, with sales in 2010 standing at 10 percent higher than ’09 (which was flat) and it’s had four of its best months ever this year. Now it’s time to expand, says CEO Terry Corless.
“We were actually ready to go [with expansion] before the recession but the recession did us a favor and pointed us in the right direction. It made us think about the safest way to [expand] rather than risk it all in uncertain times.”
Over the next 10 years the company plans to open 50 franchised locations, but that growth will be carefully planned to preserve the brand’s integrity and feel.
And it’s a brand that stretches back to 1984 when two Scottish natives founded it in Hong Kong, catering mostly to tourists and convention visitors, and where it expanded to a number of locations.
In 1996, under Corless’ guidance, Mad Dogs opened in San Antonio, drawing a similar clientele as in Hong Kong. In 2008 the company divested the Hong Kong business to concentrate on expansion in the U.S.—which is what we’re about to see now.
The first of Mad Dogs’ new locations will open in Beeville, Texas, on July 29, but will not carry the Mad Dogs name. Instead it will be called The Dog and Bees.
“The Dog and Bee is a skeletal brand,” Corless explains. “We didn’t want to risk our name in a small market that we were unsure of. Ideally we’ll grow into Houston, Austin, Dallas Fort-Worth. Then we’ll mostly grow in concentric circles. It’s about brand awareness. We’ve always been very keen on convention cities and resort cities.”
But The Dog and Bee, he says, “is a wonderful opportunity to put into practice what we’ve refined.”
Other restaurants will operate under the Mad Dogs name and next up, later this year, will be an operation in Atlanta, in a former Irish pub.
But Corless wants to take it slowly. He only expects to open two franchised locations this year, and probably not many more than three next year.
“So to start with we’re forecasting to open gradually then as our opening procedure gets more sophisticated, our snowball gets larger. So in the next five years there’s no reason why we wouldn’t have 15 or 20 restaurants.”
The interior of the restaurant, the food and the operational style are what make the brand, Corless says.
“I think the brand is about the love of the icon that is the British pub. If it looks and feels like it and you’re getting your cottage pie and you’ve got a pint of Smithwicks and you’ve got a girl in a kilt and a telephone box nearby, you’re getting it. Of course it would be better if you had someone with a British experience serving you, but surprisingly, there’s not that expectation.”
The pub is also full of genuine British memorabilia, which constitutes five percent of the restaurant’s business.
But the Britishness, while apparently everywhere, isn’t (literally) forced down patrons’ throats. Between 20 and 30 percent of the menu is classic British food—fish and chips are the biggest seller. But Corless says, “we understand that salads, burger and fries are always going to be a big part of the American palate.” Another 20 percent of the menu will be tailored to each local market.
But Mad Dogs does teach its staff some fundamentals about Britain—information such as how Great Britain was formed, how the countries came into allegiance, and Britain’s geographic location.
But for now, Mad Dogs is working on building a franchise base that it can grow slowly.
The chain is hoping to recruit franchisees who have at least five years’ experience in the restaurant industry — “someone who understands the financial side of the business but has an eye for detail and how to take care of a customer and understands how to take care of a business,” Corless points out.
Although, he says, the chain has had great response from entrepreneurs who aren’t necessarily food and beverage people.
“These people don’t necessarily have experience in the food and beverage industry but are entrepreneurs who have drive. And I really believe that the personality, the drive, the ambition is far more important than where they come from.”
And of course, the goal is to have multi-unit operators. “It’s the only way you can become a big boy out there,” Corless says. “It would be too slow a growth process if everyone only had one location.”
By Amanda Baltazar