A new path emerges
Stidham first met Griffin in 2018 at a franchise network meeting in Denver. Naturally, he tuned in. Listening to Griffin and his “Boudreaux jokes” isn’t like watching slides flip on a corporate proposal. Over the past couple of years, the two talked occasionally and chatted casually about restaurant life in the COVID blender.
Summa, which has roughly 40 percent of its business in restaurants, had begun to explore acquisitions about three years ago, right before the crisis. This year, a mutual friend approached Stidham and asked if he might help Griffin out. He was looking for a buyer and insight. Stidham signed an NDA, got data on the business, and started to make calls.
“My thought was, ‘wow, this is really an interesting property.’ With all due respect to my friends in the hamburger business, I’m not convinced the world needs another hamburger concept,” Stidham says.
But he did think the market could host hundreds of Lost Cajuns. Stidham flew to Atlanta and spent a day and a half with Griffin, taking stock of his vision, story, and what worked and what didn’t over the years. The “please, thank you, you’re welcome culture” and “unbelievably great” food hooked him just as it did those first operators. “By Sunday afternoon, we stood up, shook hands, and said, you know, I think we have an agreement,” Stidham says.
He doesn’t foresee 30,000 Lost Cajuns across America. “But we can grow this business and this brand literally to hundreds of units,” Stidham says.
The four- to five-year target is 200 locations. Over time, Stidham says, “we’ll probably get somewhere between 300 and 500 units.”
“So we’re not going to be pedestrian,” he says. “We’re not going to be on every street corner, either. That’s now what this is.” There are currently 23 stores.
Stidham has travelled to about a third of the restaurants thus far and feels there’s plenty to build on. The franchise base is small, but they’re battle tested and committed. They’re mostly single-unit owner-operators who don’t have stakes in other chains.
Pulling back, Stidham says there are three big things he wants to focus on: Owner profitability; training and support services, plus efficiencies, and especially supply chain logistics; and helping franchisees with marketing—the ability to communicate who and what they are in their local trade areas. The latter point is a critical one, Stidham says, when you examine the footprint. The Lost Cajun isn’t opening in major metros like Chicago or Manhattan, and it likely never will.
It has stores from Burlington, North Carolina, to Cypress, Texas. “At the end of the day, staying true to the vision of who we are and what’s been built,” Stidham says. "That's what matters."
A key, though, he adds: “This is not a bad to good story. This is a good to great story. That’s what we want to have. I am not hung up on the number of franchisees; I’m hung up on the quality of franchisee and their ability to be successful and make a real positive impact in their communities.”
There’s a fourth element in play, too. Stidham calls it The Lost Cajun’s “value point.”
“I have not had anybody tell me we should be selling spaghetti, pizza, or chicken sandwiches or burgers,” he says. “We’re not going to do that. People visit us for very specific cuisine and for a very specific experience.”
Essentially, The Lost Cajun will keep aiming at a target no other brand has truly accomplished at scale in this industry—making Cajun staples accessible to the masses.
“We’ve got a community of people who are passionate and excited about the brand. That’s part of the fun of The Lost Cajun. People who know our cuisine, try our food, and like our food. People who maybe are coming in the first time and are not familiar with it,” Stidham says. “We have a chance to better help them understand what we do and how we do it.”
“We’ve got a lot of folks to feed gumbo and jambalaya and crawfish etouffée to,” he adds.
Griffin assured franchisees the deal would be a net positive, comparing it to “backing a Mack tool truck to your front door, and opening the back door and you’re able to reach in there and get any tool that you need.”
From marketing to supply chain to menu creation, Griffin believes Summa will equip operators with resources he could only reach for previously.