“We've always put the horses in front of the cart so we have very dynamic headquarters full of smart people,” Frabitore says. “So a lot of the things that people maybe couldn't afford or didn't put in place and started expanding and then ran into a problem, we've been able to avoid.”
Tupelo also invested in its employees on the back end. The brand’s training program was revamped ahead of growth, and Frabitore says he’s always looking for ways to improve the benefits program.
Inside the restaurant, a combination of made-from-scratch Southern food menu and touches of down-home hospitality create a differentiated experience. This has contributed to Tupelo’s success outside of the South. Some of Tupelo’s highest-performing locations are in Colorado and Arlington, Virginia, Frabitore says.
“When you walk into the restaurant, you should feel better,” Frabitore says. “And as you go through the course of your meal, you should feel more and more relaxed and more taken care of. And then enjoy just beautifully chef-inspired food.”
Frabitore is methodically looking at markets for Tupelo to grow in. There isn’t a magic number or goal Frabitore wants to reach.
“We're very thoughtful and careful about expanding to make sure that we don't outstrip either our resources or our infrastructure and damage our company,” he says.
Tupelo is far from perfect, Frabitore adds, but the brand has developed a formula that travels.
Using metadata and in-person research, Frabitore and his team determine if a Tupelo would be successful before it even opens.
“We know who our guest is and look for markets where that guest lives and works. And we also look for markets where we're pretty much completely unique, like Boise,” Frabitore says. “No one does Southern food the way that we do there.”
Frabitore personally visits the market, dining at various restaurants, chatting with employees and customers to see what works in that specific area. Real estate is also handpicked by Tupelo. The company doesn’t leave big decisions like that to third parties, Frabitore says.
“We are extremely serious about opening stores successfully,” he says. “Everybody can say that, but I'm not sure everybody has invested in the kind of infrastructure we have to do that well. We become part of a community and that's meaningful.”