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BannaStrow's CEO on expansion plans

Crêpe concept growing with nontraditional locations and food trucks

Mauricio Acevedo, chief executive of four-unit crêpe franchise BannaStrow’s, knows that his chain’s signature product isn’t a menu item commonly seen in the United States.

The solution for Miami-based BannaStrow’s, Acevedo said, is to hit the road and introduce its crêpes to the masses, expanding with its small-footprint stores in high-traffic venues — airports, hospitals, schools, travel plazas — or with a food truck franchising option. The latter development is intended to capitalize on the concept’s strength in nontraditional locations by serving as a billboard and display kitchen on wheels, reaching areas just beyond the mall or the college campus.

The ease with which BannaStrow’s franchisees can prepare the concept’s crêpes, salads and “Wreps” not only improves their operations but also their marketing, Acevedo said, as putting on a display while cooking is key to attracting shoppers or travelers passing by.

Acevedo spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about how BannaStrow’s commitment to being seen serves as a tool for branding and generating franchise leads.

Since most people know what a crêpe is but likely haven’t eaten them in an American restaurant, how do you introduce BannaStrow’s to consumers?

It’s kind of a two-fold strategy. The first part is to be where the potential customers are going to be. The advantages we offer are that our food can be eaten any time of the day and appeals to the whole family, and [the concept is] easy to set up and can be placed anywhere. We really are a restaurant without a kitchen. It’s all done on crêpe grills, and because of that we can be in nontraditional areas where the foot traffic is. Our individual franchisees, then, do a lot of in-store and local-store marketing and reach out to local communities via social media.

So a food truck would be a natural extension to a nontraditional model for expansion and marketing?

The truck was the next logical step for our concept. It’s a mobile billboard and can go a few places other restaurants can’t go.

Take college campuses, for example. A lot of companies that manage campus dining have found out that at some of these huge campuses with a food court, they’re not reaching all their students. Some students are in class at a building on the other side of campus at 11:30, and the only way to reach them is through local marketing [with fliers or handouts], but with the food truck, they could take the restaurant right to them.

And in major populated cities like New York and Chicago, the flexibility is good. You could park outside clubs for late-night business, or you can park outside a health club in the afternoon.

Once you get BannaStrow’s in front of people, either on the truck or through placement in a busy mall, how do you encourage trial from people walking by?

The main thing that draws people is the show itself. We prep the food right in front of the customers, and they can see how fresh it is and how the range of offerings is immense, from sweet to savory. The most important thing to putting on a good show in front of people is the ease of the prep and the operation itself. … That’s why we’ve made the concept a very easy one to manage, with no complicated steps or secret recipes.

What are your near-term growth plans?

We have four locations now, and our plan is to open 25 per year, to get to 125 locations by 2015. We’ll focus in our back yard of Florida, of course, but we also will look into going up the East Coast, from Georgia to New York and Boston, then Chicago. We also like highly populated areas that have the four seasons.'

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected].

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