A look inside Stacked from BJ’s founders

New ‘fast-casual plus’ concept focused on customization set to debut Tuesday

The founders of BJ’s Restaurants Inc. are getting ready to open the doors to their new concept, Stacked: food well built, Tuesday in Torrance, Calif.

Described by its creators as “fast-casual plus,” Stacked offers a twist on the customization trend, allowing guests to order and build their own meals from tabletop iPads.

Nation’s Restaurant News got an early look at the 160-seat, 6,300-square foot venue, which is tucked into a retail lifestyle center next to a BJ’s restaurant in Torrance.

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Stacked founders Paul Motenko and Jerry Hennessy bought the pizza concept that became BJ’s in 1991 and took that company public in 1996. The casual-dining chain now includes more than 100 locations. The two stepped down from the BJ’s board in 2008 to focus on developing Stacked.

Two more Stacked locations are planned for this year: a San Diego unit in August and one in Cerritos, Calif., in October.

Stacked is one of a growing number of restaurants that are using iPad technology to put guests in control of their dining experience. Paul Motenko, co-founder of Stacked Restaurants LLC, based in Newport Beach, Calif., however, said the technology is simply a means to an end.

Central to the concept is the way guests are invited to create and customize their own dishes, including burgers, pizza, sausage plates and salads. Customers can “stack” their burger or pizza by selecting the elements, from bun or crust to toppings, selecting from multiple creative ingredients.

Guests are even allowed to play with their food at dessert. Shakes or ice cream sandwiches can be customized from the ice cream flavor to mix-ins, such as Kit Kat candy bars, snicker doodle cookies, mixed berries and toasted coconut.

The system won’t let guest add more than five mix-ins, however. “Sometimes we have to save people from themselves,” Motenko said.

Customers also can choose from a number of signature dishes, such as the “Honey I smoked the salmon” pizza with basil pesto, mozzarella, cream cheese, honey-smoked salmon, roasted red peppers and green onion; or a “wake up call” burger, featuring an Angus beef patty on a pretzel bun with Swiss cheese, a fried egg, applewood-smoked bacon, sun-dried tomato aioli and house-made potato chips.

Guests can add or take away any element of signature items, or ask for sauces on the side. The “Honey I smoked the salmon,” for example, could be modified by removing the green onions and adding artichoke hearts or red onion instead.

The iPad-based system is intuitive, but servers are available to help explain how it works. Servers, called “concierges,” will also take orders the old-fashioned way if guests prefer human contact.

The goal is not to replace servers with technology, Motenko said.

In addition to delivering food, and refilling drinks, concierges are trained to focus on offering a terrific guest experience.

“It’s a full-service experience with fast-casual speed and prices,” said Motenko.

However, because labor costs are lower, Stacked is able to keep pricing reasonable and offer more in the way of quality ingredients, he said.

With an average check of about $10, Stacked offers a value proposition by being so “ingredient centric,” said Motenko. “You pay for exactly what you get.”

If you don’t want cheese on your salad, for example, the cost of that cheese is subtracted from the total.

The technology offers other benefits. Guests who become “members,” a pre-cursor to a loyalty program to come, will be able to save their favorite dishes as created, so they can order it again with the touch of a code.

Customers also can pre-order online, requiring them only to punch in a code when they arrive to send the order to the kitchen.

Payment is completed via iPad, and guests can request that receipts be e-mailed, rather than printed.

Down the road, Motenko said they plan to build on the software to allow guests to see the number of calories and other nutrition information about their specific meals on the iPads.

Motenko said they also plan to add a social media component that would allow guests to share their favorite dish creations through Twitter or Facebook.

Designed by Jordan Mozer and Associates of Chicago, Stacked has elements of industrial chic softened by floor-to-ceiling wall murals and glass window panels in a patchwork of colors.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected] [4].
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout [5]