Declining retail traffic isn’t keeping Buzzy Sklar from working to become the next king of the mall food court.
Sklar opened Sliderz in North Miami last year, aiming to do to the slider what chains like Shake Shack and Five Guys did to the traditional sized burger. Sklar founded the Burger & Beer Joint and sold the chain in 2011.
This week, and with just one location, Sliderz MG Inc. announced a partnership with Florida venture capitalists Benzion Aboud and Joe Randazza that secured $21 million in funding.
The funds will help Sliderz grow aggressively, primarily in nontraditional locations like malls, airports and casinos. Indeed, at least for now there are no plans to grow the chain outside of those spots.
“Mall developers realize that they have to make malls more experience oriented,” Sklar told Nation’s Restaurant News.
“They’re losing to online shopping. So they’re reconverting and redoing their food courts. They’re getting rid of old stale brands and bringing in new brands. The Subways of the world don’t work in these types of malls.”
Venture capitalists have been far more willing in recent years to invest in small restaurant concepts, in a bid to latch onto a chain that will become the next big thing. After chains like Shake Shack and Zoës Kitchen earned their early investors millions upon millions, the amount of investment being poured into unproven chains has only increased.
Sliderz might be the newest, smallest chain to receive such funding. Its only unit is less than a year old, though the company is less than two weeks from opening its second location.
Yet Aboud said the deal is also about using his insight into the retail business to help take Sliderz into nontraditional concepts, where the initial investment is lower and where a few deals can yield dozens upon dozens of locations.
Aboud created a cell phone retailer that he expanded to 150 locations before selling it in 2002. He also has known Sklar for a decade. “I’ve seen what Buzzy has been able to do in the food industry,” he said, adding that experience can help scale Sliderz quickly.
“When you work with one mall group, you can sign 30 to 40 leases,” Aboud said. “That’s scalability. And the reasonable investment it takes to invest in the locations in food courts is attractive.”
Said Sklar: “You don’t have to build bathrooms.”
Sklar didn’t create Sliderz to be that way. He sold Burger & Beer Joint in 2011 and later wanted to get back into the restaurant business. His idea, however, was to make a “better slider” concept, as it were, to start a concept that offers high-quality mini sandwiches.
“I saw what Shake Shack did to the Burger Kings and Wendy’s of the McDonald’s of the world,” Sklar said. “They took the concept and elevated it in a fast casual format. No one did that in the slider world. That’s how Sliderz was born.”
The first location opened in November 2015 in a strip center in North Miami.
The concept has several different types of sliders, including vegetarian, burger, chicken, meatball, pulled pork, turkey and hot dog. Sklar said the concept attracts families, even though it has no kids’ meals, because its burgers are small enough for small children. The chain is now doing some catering of kids’ parties.
“When you have a 5-year-old kid you don’t have to get them a five-pound burger,” Aboud said.
The concept quickly signed deals to open in a couple of additional malls in Florida. That helped the company work deals with other large mall developers to open the concept in other locations — none of which were daunted by the chain’s lack of locations.
“It’s really funny, I thought that was going to be the hardest thing,” Sklar said. “We put it out there that we got into two top malls.”
Now, he said, he gets numerous letters of intent every day, offering him deals. “It’s been unbelievably easy.” He believes the company will be able to open one store a month over the next four to five years and has plans to open 80 locations.
For years, restaurants were sideshows inside malls as developers sought to give retail customers a place to rest during their shopping trips. More recently, developers have been using restaurants to generate the traffic.
That has these developers turning toward newer and unique concepts. Aboud and Sklar, in fact, believe that Sliderz could prove an advantage to malls because it won’t have traditional locations.
And neither Aboud nor Sklar worry about retail traffic shifting from malls to the Internet.
“Not in my lifetime. Not in my kids lifetime. Not in their kids’ lifetime,” Sklar said. “The mall is still a place people go. I’m at a mall now. People are shopping. There’s not a table in the food court where people aren’t sitting.
“People still go to malls. Has some retail shifted? Without a doubt. But people go to malls for lots of reasons. It’s a social thing.”