After opening three restaurants in six months, the founders of the fast-casual Stacked concept are focused on efficiency as they prepare for more strategic growth next year.
Paul Motenko, founder of Newport Beach, Calif.-based Stacked Restaurants LLC, told Nation’s Restaurant News that business at the first two locations has exceeded expectations.
The third unit, which opened in Cerritos, Calif., last month, is the chain’s first freestanding location, and, at 6,500 square feet, is slightly larger than the first unit, at 6,300 square feet, which opened in Torrance, Calif., in May. The second location opened in September in San Diego at 5,500 square feet. All three are located in or next to busy shopping malls.
A fourth Stacked restaurant is planned for the second half of 2012 in Southern California, although the exact location has not yet been established, Motenko said.
The Stacked restaurant in Torrance is expected to see sales of about $3 million annually and the San Diego location is projected to see between $3 million and $4 million, Motenko said.
Although it’s too early to pin down expectations for the Cerritos unit, Motenko said he expects it will be the highest volume location yet.
Restaurant industry observers are closely following Stacked, as it is one of the first restaurant chains to successfully leverage touch-screen technology that allows guests to order and build their own fully customized meals and pay using table-top iPads.
Motenko and his partner Jerry Hennessy also are industry icons, having founded BJ’s Restaurants Inc., although the two stepped down from the casual-dining chain’s board in 2008 to focus on developing Stacked.
The first few months brought some rough patches, with the computer system going down on occasion, Motenko said. But early problems have been fixed and the ordering system is now running smoothly.
Customers have accepted the technology aspect with enthusiasm, he said. “People understand it. They enjoy it.”
But as customers leave the restaurant after their meal, they tend not to talk about the technology.
“They’re saying ‘That was the best burger,’ or whatever,” Motenko said. “They’re talking about the food.”
The key attraction has been the brand’s focus on customization, he said.
Using the iPads, customers can build a burger by ingredient, only paying for exactly what they select, from pickles to sun-dried tomato aioli.
However, customization has proven to be challenging to execute, with the kitchen dealing with as many as 60 burger orders simultaneously, each with specific ingredient requests.
“We’re still working on making the kitchen more efficient,” Motenko said.
The menu also includes salads, pizzas and sausage plates, but burgers outsell other categories three-to-one, Motenko said. The average check is just under $12.
The company has learned that customers tend to use Stacked more like a full-service restaurant, although the chain recently launched online ordering to speed service for those in a hurry.
Future locations will likely build up bar business, Motenko said, and appetizers have been added to the menu for multi-course options.
Motenko said the company is already receiving requests to bring the brand overseas. But future franchising, whether domestic or international, will have to wait until the company has proven the economic model.
“Our main focus now is making the restaurant as efficient as possible and enhancing the experience for the guest,” Motenko said.