Naturally, quarantines and guest fears didn’t play into The Lost Cajun’s equities. Griffin opened stores to defy expectations of what Cajun comfort food could look like. And it starts when the server walks out with a sample platter on a paddle with seafood gumbo, chicken and sausage gumbo, crawfish étouffée, red beans and rice, lobster bisque, and chicken and sausage jambalaya. It’s hard to do that through third-party delivery.
Pre-COVID, sales outside the four walls were less than 10 percent of the business. It’s closer to 35 percent now. Although that’s a major boon for operations getting back on track, as the chain figured out how to get food to travel properly, it’s also an indicator of how challenging things really became. The Lost Cajun is still not quite where it was, Griffin says. But it’s 20 percent up from the bottom. “Which is a great thing,” he says.
And future twists are sure to come. Griffin says a distributor recently told him half of their drivers and warehouse people were out sick with omicron spiking. Deliveries went down from two or three days a week to one. The Lost Cajun is readying for one of its busiest times of the year—crawfish season. But Griffin isn’t sure how labor will factor into that supply as well. The brand tends to skew an older demographic, 44–55, and they’ve hunkered down amid recent surges.
Yet success stories keep emerging. A Canon City, Colorado, opening went gangbusters out of the gates and has already done more than $1 million in sales this year. The California Lost Cajun was more than two years in the making. They struggled to get contractors, sites, equipment, shipping, and staff. “He said I am not going to be deterred,” Griffin recalls of the operator. “I am going to open a Lost Cajun because I know it’s going to be wildly successful.” And it has been thus far.
A few months ago, Griffin and his fiancée took a cross-country drive to visit every Lost Cajun. They documented the journey on Facebook, piling up miles and plates as they shook hands and talked through the last couple of years with the company’s franchisees. “I was tired, but can I tell you, it was an awesome trip,” Griffin says.
Since day one of the pandemic, Griffin jotted down in a “history book” how The Lost Cajun countered each COVID swing. How it survived variants, mandates, learned the ins-and-outs of off-premises, and dealt with each pivot and “new normal” tactic along the path. And like a lot of full-serves, the result is The Lost Cajun feels better equipped to handle whatever comes next.
Griffin is hopeful, as some pundits suggest, omicron can spike and leave a more open country in its wake. With that, pent-up demand The Lost Cajun can satisfy with a new playbook that covers everything from how to support franchisees to what kind of promotions are needed to get food to guests at home.
The big-picture is bringing prospective operators back, too, as mentioned before. Griffin says he has seven inquires on his desk now, which might not be as many as a few years ago but sure feels like a heavy stack compared to the heart of 2020. It gives him confidence, he says, The Lost Cajun can not only refill its pipeline going forward, but do so with franchisees that meet every criteria he has in mind.
“I’m going to be the no guy instead of the yes guy. You know what? I may not open as many, but I’m going to open them better because of that,” he says.
“Maybe we’ll be 50 [units],” Griffin adds of the 100-store goal from before. “Maybe we’ll be 70. But at my age, all I want to do now is have a handful of successful owners, a bunch of happy employees, and provide food that nobody else provides except for me. And you know what, there’s a lot to be said for that.”