After working with larger national restaurant chains, Ricky Richardson was looking for a change. He wanted to join a smaller company on the cusp of growth, one where he could leverage his skills to build a brand from the ground up.
The Pawleys Island, South Carolina–based breakfast chain Eggs Up Grill felt like the perfect fit., The company had built brand awareness over the past two decades, from North Georgia to the Carolina beaches. And for a smaller chain, Eggs Up wasn’t short on guest affinity.
“With 20 years’ worth of success and high brand awareness, we feel like there’s a lot of strong reception from guests and anticipation from guests,” says Richardson, who took the CEO role last July. Richardson’s background includes more than two decades with TGI Fridays, where he most recently served as president and chief operating officer of Fridays USA, overseeing more than 500 restaurants.
Richardson’s hire signaled the start of an aggressive growth plan under new ownership for Eggs Up Grill. In March 2018, the company was acquired from Skip Corn and founder Chris Skodras by WJ Partners, a private investment firm with a history of rapidly scaling multiunit concepts.
There were 24 locations at the time of the acquisition, and 36 restaurants today. Six new locations have opened this year, with another 6 planned by year’s end. Nine locations are confirmed for 2020. The company had sales of $22.5 million last year and average checks of $10.
Eggs Up operates on a 100 percent franchised model. That pipeline won’t change, Richardson says. About half of its forthcoming stores will be owned by new franchisees; existing operators opening the other half.
The balance between bringing new people into the system and helping existing franchisees expand is important, he says.
“We put a big focus around the culture in the onboarding, so [new franchisees] really understand what the brand is about and what it takes to be successful,” he says. “The other half would be developed by existing franchisees that already have brand and operational expertise, which helps that growth to be much more manageable. And it gives us confidence we can do it successfully.”
Eggs Up will enter two new states—Tennessee and Florida—in 2019. The company’s sweet spot is cities where the population is around 100,000 people, like Charleston, Greenville, and Spartanburg, South Carolina.
“Our capabilities of providing great support for our franchisees, and the focus is on the Southeast,” Richardson says. “National growth is not what we’re looking for right now. It’s in the Southeastern markets that we know well where we can see what our franchise partners know and leverage the brand awareness that’s already in place.”
Richardson says breakfast concepts are experiencing elevated competition from new brands and other chains looking to expand. Unlike other major breakfast restaurants, he says, Eggs Up still has a mom-and-pop neighborhood feel. One of the company’s mottos is “Neighbors serving neighbors.” Many franchisees join the company after dining at the restaurant with little to no experience in the industry. The connection between the operator and the community allows the restaurant to capitalize on those relationships.
“There are big benefits from having the brand connection,” Richardson says. “That personal connection makes a huge difference. It builds on that credibility that a brand affinity has and makes it more personal and more authentic to those communities.”
In order to help support its franchisees, Richardson says, the company has heavily invested in technology, real estate, and training programs over the past year. It also built its first company restaurant, which opened in Spartanburg in July. The restaurant features a second kitchen for innovation, aiding product development previously done at franchise locations.
The design of the corporate store features Eggs Up’s new prototype. With a fresh layout and design elements, the restaurant creates more of a welcoming ambience for guests. Franchisees and customers will see a restaurant with more personality and a new energy, Richardson says.
A remodeling plan hasn’t been announced yet. “Our first franchise just had his 10-year anniversary, and he wanted to remodel his restaurant,” Richardson says. “So we’re using some of the color schemes and the new décor and artwork in the restaurant.”
Along with a design facelift, the restaurant’s kitchen layout was reworked extensively. The new kitchen design will be featured in the company store and all upcoming locations starting this fall.