A go for growth
The origin story of Eggs Up Grill begins on Pawleys Island, a popular vacation spot along the South Carolina coast. In 1997, after about a decade working in his family’s restaurants, Chris Skodras struck out on his own to open a breakfast-driven restaurant. From there, growth was organic and measured. The first franchisee agreement was informal at best, with Skodras’s brother as the operator.
But friends who were McDonald’s franchisees turned Skodras onto the idea of a more formal structure, and a few years after his brother signed on, the brand began to take a more proactive approach. Though, Richardson specifies, it was proactive in that Skodras “would entertain people who were interested in doing that,” he says “There was never any active franchise outreach. So it would have historically been guests of Eggs Up Grill that had been attracted to the brand and wanted to bring it to their community.”
Under WJ Partners, the approach is more aggressive, but not overly so. For one, the brand wants to, at least for the foreseeable future, stay in the Southeast, where Richardson believes it could easily reach 400 units without becoming oversaturated. Secondly, it’s still connecting with potential partners the way it did under Skodras’s direction: through word of mouth and in-person interactions.
That’s how Ron Donaldson first became acquainted with Eggs Up Grill. Now, he’s on track to be the largest franchisee in the system, planting outposts in the virgin soil of Texas.
While working the graveyard shift at Subway as a teen, Donaldson promised himself he’d one day own his own—and he made good on that promise. For about 14 years, he operated multiple concepts, including Subway units and some regional brands in both quick and full service. Eventually, he sold the business and switched to buying and building apartment buildings. It was on a work trip to Charleston, South Carolina, that Donaldson happened to dine at what he assumed was a local institution.
“The atmosphere was great; the people were great. Whenever I go into a restaurant, I’m always assessing things just because of my history, and I assumed it was a local concept. The more I ate there, the more I enjoyed it. Then I found out it was a franchise brand,” Donaldson says. He started doing some research and eventually connected with Richardson and WJ Partners. “We were just smitten. We were very pleased with the culture, with the brand, and the great opportunities,” he adds.
So last summer, Donaldson, along with his brother and son, signed a deal to develop 30 Eggs Up Grill locations in the greater Dallas-Fort Worth market. The first Texas store, slated to open early this year in Carrollton, clocks in just shy of 8,000 square feet and includes a training kitchen that will be used for onboarding as more locations open.
Face-to-face interactions between senior executives and boots-on-the-ground operators are at the heart of Eggs Up Grill. And company leaders are betting on these strong franchisee ties to not only fuel growth, but also ensure the brand personality is maintained across the entire system. After all, it’s one of the first things guests and operators like Donaldson notice when they visit.
“It’s been a breath of fresh air. When we were with some of our other brands—and I can’t say names—we just felt boxed in with a lot of things, and it made it difficult to interject things that we felt would improve the overall brand image and sales,” Donaldson says. “We’ve been doing this for a little while, so we understand the temperament of folks who are in the industry. We felt the ownership was very genuine in terms of working with the franchisees to be true partners in the growth of the brand.”
This same intentionality was present when WJ Partners took the reins. Richardson recalls sitting down with multiple players who had a pivotal role in shaping the Eggs Up Grill family, including Skodras and the brand’s longest tenured franchisee.
“We spent a couple hundred man-hours over about a three-month period getting down on paper what I call the DNA, or the soul of the brand, and what those points of differentiation are that have made it successful to this point in time,” Richardson says. WJ Partners and the new leadership wanted to accelerate growth, but they wanted to do it the right way and make sure they didn’t “lose sight of what it had been that made it successful, so that all the work that we did was complimentary versus creating confusion or disconnects or murkiness about what Eggs Up Grill is really about,” he adds.
One of the first changes to come out of these meetings was the new store design, which can be found in about half the system, due to new locations entering the system and legacy operators updating their spaces. While this new look might differ from the original (think: old-school diner), it reflects brand values that have remained unchanged.
“It’s about being light, bright, and it kind of helps put a smile on your face,” Richardson says. “It has some design elements and color schemes that remind you of the sun coming up in the morning. It reminds you a little bit of our heritage from the beach area.”