“We are heavy on forecasting now so we know what’s coming,” she says. “When you’re a new concept growing quickly, you don’t have data to go off. Now that we have data, it makes it much more predictable what we’re going to do year by year.”
As for the future, Sarber will open another SOB in Indianapolis in 2023, and is also preparing to launch a French patisserie called Paris Misfits, which was set to launch next to an Agave & Rye location in a Huntsville, Alabama, lifestyle mall. But the team quickly realized the space—only 1,500 square feet—could not support the necessary equipment like a hood system. Sarber shifted around her plans so Paris Misfits will debut in a location in Cincinnati, and a new concept will open in the smaller space called Trashy Dawg. (Sarber certainly knows how to have fun naming her restaurants.)
Trashy Dawg will be EPIC Brands’ first foray into counter service, serving up chicken wings, hot dogs, and other more indulgent bites like garlic Texas Toast topped with housemade mac and cheese. The menu is engineered to be profitable and play nicely with third-party delivery.
“It’s not the crazy devil most restaurants think it is with the percentages they take,” Sarber says about third-party platforms. “You just have to learn how to make it work for your concept.”
Sarber has also devised a plan to optimize their footprint by marketing certain menu items separately as virtual brands on third-party websites, like Lick My Chicken and Bussin Burgers. But she still wants to entice customers to visit the fast casual in person so they can order drinks with their meals.
“You feel as though the environment is pretty magical and inspiring, and people love coming to our locations and being brought to a playground between the food, beverages, and the team,” she adds. “You feel the team’s energy when you go in the door.”
Embracing technology and making sure Trashy Dawg controlled its prime food and labor costs were important aspects Sarber prioritized when developing the concept. A team member or two—plus four ordering kiosks—will greet people as they enter. After ordering and paying from the kiosk, orders will be ready for pickup within seven minutes, or you can choose to have an employee deliver it to your table. Delivery drivers will also have designated parking spots and easy access to get in and out of the restaurant as quickly as possible.
“Where many people think you’re taking human interaction away, we’re taking the service aspect away and concentrating on hospitality,” Sarber says. “The team members are there to actually make your stay and experience more enjoyable versus spending all the time inputting your order and cashing you out.”
Plus, customers won’t have to wait for a server to come back to their table to order another drink and can simply order another on their phone app, saving time and money.
“It helps control your labor, and the food cost is set to the consumer. It’s very approachable and affordable, but yet the ambiance is going to feel as though you’re being pampered,” she says. And the savings on the labor front will be funneled into providing higher wages for workers.
“When it comes to labor, I feel as though the more we pay our team members, the more [it says] we want them to be able to have healthy lives where they’re not having to work two jobs—but you also have to be able to support it within your cost parameters. This is set up for that,” Sarber adds.
Though franchising isn’t in the immediate future for Epic Brands concepts, Sarber says she’d be willing to take on partnership investors for Trashy Dawg, while Agave & Rye and SOB will likely always remain internally operated. She even predicts Trashy Dawg will surpass Agave & Rye fairly quickly.
“It’s difficult to reproduce Agave & Rye, whereas Trashy Dawg is simpler,” Sarber explains. “At Agave & Rye, we refuse to co-pack; everything has got to be made from scratch, and it’s very important to us, which also adds to layers. If you’re franchising and not co-packing, that’s a problem.”
Sarber is also developing a new, authentic Mexican street food concept called Papi Jochos, which will function more as a quick-serve restaurant with a two-lane drive-thru, patio, and outdoor restrooms in lieu of indoor seating. Each drive-thru lane will be housed under a 30-foot hood and feature floor-to-ceiling glass windows, so customers can watch street tacos, hot dogs, and Mexican street burgers being made.
“It will look like each is a street cart, and we’ll vent it, so customers will have an experience in the drive-thru,” she says.
But the most exciting part for Sarber is the opportunity to give back to her employees. After launching Papi Jochos and working out all the kinks, the restaurant will be licensed back to employees when they hit certain benchmarks.
“The intention is to give a legacy to our team as well, including culinary and service members, and we fund it,” she says.
“On the topic of Latinos in restaurants, I don’t think they’re represented enough in the language, and they are such a valued team member in so many restaurants, but I don’t know if their voice is heard enough,” Sarber adds.
After forming initial relationships with advocacy groups, EPIC Brands began writing employee handbooks in both English and Spanish and is actively adding Latino representation to their human resources team.
“Our team understands they get the opportunity to take care of people and create these experiences and make memories for them. How awesome is that?” Sarber says.