This post is part of the Reporter’s Notebook blog.
After two decades of slow growth in California, the 16-unit Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill chain is hopping over to the East Coast for the first time this week.
The casual-dining barbecue concept opened in Springfield, Va., on Monday and is planning expansion throughout the mid-Atlantic region that includes the Washington, D.C. greater metro area – Maryland, Virgina and the District of Columbia – along with Pennsylvania and Delaware, said Eric Anders, the concept’s co-founder.
Before opening in Virginia, the furthest the chain had strayed from its Westlake Village, Calif.-home base was San Diego.
But the jump makes sense. Anders said the company had looked at the usual next-step states, including Nevada and Arizona. But only a handful of units were likely to open there and the chain prefers to cluster a larger group to have greater management efficiencies and brand awareness.
Also, Anders is originally from the DC area, so it’s a bit of a homecoming.
The goal is to open 12 to 15 on the East Coast over the next five years – all company owned. Wood Ranch does not franchise.
And growth will continue in California. Wood Ranch is scheduled to open No. 17 in Burbank in the first quarter next year, and Northern California is in the works.
It’s a good time for Wood Ranch. Expansion was slowed by the recession, but same-store sales were up more than 7.5 percent in 2014, he said. Average unit volumes have never been higher, though he declined to specify.
The barbecue concept has an average check of about $18 per person at lunch and $28 at dinner. Roughly 17 percent of sales comes from the bar, and takeout and catering sales are strong, Anders said.
Wood Ranch is a pan-regional barbecue concept offering smoked Texas-style brisket, St. Louis-style ribs, Carolina pulled pork and signature California-style tri-tip, along with grilled items, salads and other American classics.
The DC area doesn’t have its own claim to fame in the barbecue segment, and Wood Ranch’s menu sticks with the timelessly not trendy basics of great food and drink, said Anders.
“We’re not trying to conquer the world,” he said. “We just want to create opportunities for people to move up” within the company. “I’m excited and proud because there have been people that have been with us for 15 years.”