• Hot culinary niche
• Healthful bent
• Innovative approach to food/operations
Inspired on a trip to Greece, Keith Richards and his wife, Amy Richards, returned home to Birmingham, Ala., and opened Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe, rightly anticipating that the cuisine and its healthful bent would resonate with customers.
Keith Richards, who had worked for James Beard Award-winning chef Frank Stitt, based the name of the restaurant concept on the Greek cucumber sauce, tzatziki. Fearing the Greek word would be too complicated as a restaurant moniker, he changed the spelling.
“I had to redneck the name a bit, so I took out a ‘z’ and a ‘t,’” Richards said.
That was 1998. By 2005 the couple had three stores and had started licensing the concept to interested friends and family, who encouraged them to think big. When the first licensed unit opened in Little Rock, Ark., a few years later, Richards knew they had realized their vision.
“I thought, ‘This is really neat,’” he recalled. “We’re making the same food in Little Rock as in Birmingham. It’s identical. I could do the same thing anywhere.”
They converted the licensed units to franchises in 2013 and began creating multistore franchise agreements. Transitioning to franchising has helped Taziki’s gain traction in the increasingly competitive field of Mediterranean fast-casual concepts.
Taziki’s now has 32 restaurants, half of them franchised. Headquartered in Birmingham, the concept has expanded to nine states, and Richards has plans to add 16 to 20 more franchised units by the end of the year. Taziki’s boasts average unit volumes of $1.54 million. The average check is around $12.
Taziki’s is holding its own in an emerging category that includes the likes of Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill, Little Greek, Zoës Kitchen and Roti Mediterranean Grill, noted restaurant analyst Darren Tristano of Chicago-based research firm Technomic Inc.
“The future of Mediterranean concepts in the U.S. is very strong,” Tristano said. “There is a general healthfulness around the Mediterranean style of eating. The food is familiar, and the flavor profiles are interesting.”
Richards said that staying focused on the food, using premium and local products whenever possible, and being involved in local communities are keys to Taziki’s success.
“We consider ourselves our main competition,” Richards said. “If we do not keep the quality and freshness spot on, we allow people to pick another restaurant.”
Everything is made to order at Taziki’s. The menu is a mix of Greek, Italian and Spanish food with a contemporary spin. There are grilled gyro sandwiches, including a Turkey Club Gyro, with turkey, bacon and Swiss cheese; grilled hand-rolled grape leaves stuffed with seasoned rice; grilled chicken wraps; and entrées featuring char-grilled lamb.
Taziki’s also offers take-home dinners for four that can be ordered two hours in advance. They include a Greek salad and meat combo entrée that gives guests the option of choosing from a roasted leg of lamb, roasted pork loin or roasted lemon-herb chicken for the protein.
Taziki’s uses Colorado lamb and locally sources produce, wherever possible, Richards said. In Birmingham, the company started an herb garden at a local high school to teach students how to grow food. Students harvest the oregano, rosemary and basil that are used in local Taziki’s restaurants.
This story has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: March 7, 2014 A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled the names of Amy Richards and Frank Stitt. Both names have been corrected.