Singh was home one night with his kids when he noticed them using Quizlet, a flashcard- and gamification-focused application that teaches everything from languages to vocabulary. He tasked a summer intern to take Johnny’s entire menu and upload it into Quizlet, with an exclusive classroom. There are now more than 400 members in that class who use it. “The beauty of it is our investment in that software is barely $100 each year,” Singh says.
Operators also have access to a progressive support tool known as The HUB. It’s an online portal with direct contact support that provides information to all key positions within the restaurants. Employees use it as a constant resource, and tap in for direct communication between workers at all locations via a social-media style interface.
“The result is a concept that performs without the trappings of being a chef-driven restaurant. Culinary talent can effectively be sourced throughout the fast casual marketplace and trained to deliver an outstanding dining experience,” Johnny’s says on its site.
Having that toolbox of knowledge allows the chain’s servers to focus on guest interactions, which Singh says is the secret to Johnny’s separation from the speed-rush concepts flooding casual dining. And there’s no question there’s a certain drama to the workflow that emanates from the heart of the house. Johnny’s has a red light behind the kitchen area going into the dining room that says you’re on stage the minute you walk into that “show floor.”
Customers appreciate the effort. “I think too often we’re trying to make it faster for people to get through, making it convenient for them to order, making it faster for them to pay, minimizing the interaction experiences they’re going to have,” Singh says. “And then pretty soon we’ve commoditized the one thing people probably enjoyed doing the most.”
“They love the investment training,” he adds of the employees. “They love the fact they can be thought of as a professional server. And as a result of that they’re seeing compensation coming from the guests they couldn’t see elsewhere.”
Johnny’s is a Heart of America Group concept that debuted in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2002.
Lately, the concept’s franchising has swung upward. It’s on pace for year-over-year unit growth of 34 percent in 2018 and plans to award 24 total units by 2020. Johnny’s will break into two new states with four locations this year—Farmington Hills, Michigan; Livonia, Michigan; Sun Prairie, Wisconsin; and Thornton, Colorado. It hopes to expand beyond its current nine markets with target areas including Houston, Dallas, Cleveland, and more throughout Middle America. Opened stores are doing north of $2.6 million in median annual gross revenue.