James Park took the reins just over a year ago at Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill, leaving behind a VP title at Which Wich. He’s spent the past year streamlining operations and prepping the chain for growth. FastCasual sat down with Park to learn a bit about his plans for the 23-unit chain based in Denver.
FastCasual: How have you strengthened operations since joining?Park: From the start, I have stressed open communication, inclusion and consistency in holding everyone accountable — starting with myself. I began by inviting all of our key stakeholders to an open forum to discuss “the business.” What became crystal clear during that meeting was that there were 4 or 5 main discussion points that surfaced repeatedly. So together, we all agreed on a road map to work on these hot-button issues, and over the course of the year, every stakeholder came together in support of these efforts. Today, we are seeing the fruits of our labor.
Why did you want to join Garbanzo?Park: I joined Garbanzo after re-connecting with Michael Staenberg (our Chairman and founder of The Staenberg Group) after nearly 15 years. Back then, I was a tenant in one of his developments. Michael approached me about the opportunity and after many early-morning and late-night conversations about Garbanzo, it didn’t take me long to recognize where the puck was heading.
In addition, I wanted to be a part of the industry evolution that is taking form, which is focused on serving food that is both “delicious and nutritious.” More and more, today’s consumer is just as concerned about counting chemicals as they are calories: preservatives, artificial flavors, etc… I believe conscious consumption is the new reality.
FC: What is the growth plan?Park: Our focus will be to grow more intentionally and aggressively in the franchising lane. That said, we will also continue to add to our corporate portfolio in Denver, and we’re opening a new corporate market in early 2017. I don’t care for the opportunistic approach to growth. So our growth roadmap is focused on expanding in concentric circles from our existing markets.
In addition, we’ve aligned with some terrific partners in the so-called “non-traditional” space where our volumes have outpaced everyone’s expectations. In my view, growing by “X%” per year isn’t nearly as important as building a robust concept that generates stellar ROIs.
FC: Mediterranean concepts are gaining popularity so are you worried about saturation?Park: I believe the Mediterranean phenomenon is just getting started. From the inside looking out, we read about its popularity so much that it seems like we’re approaching saturation. But really, from the consumer’s lens, it’s still vastly unknown. And frankly, at this juncture, the more concepts there are raising awareness for our space, the better. We know our food is superior to the competition’s, so we’re not afraid to let consumers decide with their dollars.
In addition, I am convinced that over the next 5 years, we’re going to see a shift from Mexican to Mediterranean and from the Sandwich to the Schawarma. Again, it’s all about food that is both “delicious and nutritious.” And Garbanzo is setting the standard.
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