Growth is returning in 2023 with an opening in Boca Raton, Florida, which is more than 900 miles from Maggie McFly’s next-closet restaurant. Although the distance is large, the decision to expand to the Sunshine State was measured. Firstly, Harper loves Florida. He used to own a home there and it’s where he wants to retire. The state has plenty of sunshine, so if there isn’t enough room in the dining room, there’s year-round patio space to work with. Even more importantly, he’s following the lead of two trusted executive managers, Don and Maria Cordeiro.
Don started with Maggie McFly’s working as a busser in Middlebury, Connecticut, while Maria joined as a host in the same location. Both rose through the ranks and played a significant role in opening stores in Springfield and Virginia Beach, Virginia. The couple ran those restaurants for years before coming to Harper expressing a desire to move to Florida to be closer to family. Not wanting to lose his best executives, Harper viewed it as his next opportunity.
“I said, ‘Well, if you guys go to Florida, then I'm opening up a restaurant in Florida,’” Harper remembers.
As for brand awareness, Harper relies on the skills of corporate marketing manager Carrie Koscal, who’s worked with influencers in previous openings. Maggie McFly’s will also leverage relationships with local companies to push word-of-mouth promotions. Site selection will be a key part of the process, too. The restaurant will be based in the Boca Town Center, which features more than 200 stores and “incredible foot traffic,” Harper says.
Harper himself will focus on execution. Maggie McFly’s will use its best chefs and trainers to get the Florida store up and running. That group will stay as long as necessary to prepare the local team. The same pattern took place when the brand entered Virginia and New York.
“You'd never hear of a restaurant closing that had great food and great service,” Harper says. “I don't care how bad their location is. If you got great food, you got great service, people are going to find you and people are going to support you as opposed to advertising the hell out of the place and getting people to come in and not being able to achieve the experience that they really need.”
Boca Raton will be the southernmost location. The idea is then to reach Orlando and Tampa and start hitting the West Coast. More expansion is coming to the Northeast as well; Maggie McFly’s is planning for a 10th outlet in Cheshire, Connecticut, sometime in 2024. The Florida location will be 8,200 square feet, which is an average size for the concept. Some are 10,000 square feet. The one in Brookfield, Connecticut, is 14,000 square feet because it includes indoor golf simulators. But Maggie McFly’s also has one unit that’s 6,800 square feet. Harper likes to go with modern upscale finishes inside his restaurants, but the Boca Raton store will be “a little boujier” since it's South Florida. Not changing the pricing or menu, but just trying to implement a more sophisticated feel to the interior. It will be the chain’s fifth mall-based unit.
Opening in Florida will be a daunting task, Harper agrees. He has numerous friends that own larger restaurant groups that ask how he does it. How is he able to open a store that many miles away? It’s expensive, no question. But Harper says the reward is worth it. Soon, Maggie McFly’s will be known in different regions and that could lead to infill opportunities in the Carolinas.
Harper believes his success comes from being different and not listening to outside noise. And he’s not stopping that strategy anytime soon.
“I've been working for myself for 30 years. I can't see myself answering to somebody,” Harper says. “I have a fantastic life. My kids are grown. They're in college now. I make more than I need and right now I'm doing it to really try to set up the executives that have gotten me here.”