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The ‘revitalization’ of Mooyah: How the burger brand is positioned for aggressive growth

How this 17-year-old burger brand has positioned itself for aggressive growth


Mooyah Burgers, Fries & Shakes has been through plenty of ups and downs throughout its past 17 years, but the company is currently on a positive trajectory amid a revitalization effort. That is, at least, according to CEO Doug Willmarth, who joined the brand in late 2021 after the world, let alone the industry, was completely upended.

At some point prior to the pandemic, Mooyah’s system grew to over 100 units. But it then plateaued a bit and, according to Technomic Ignite data, now counts about 80 locations in 23 states. The company launched a franchising program last year to gain back some of its pre-pandemic footprint and then some. The plan this year is to open 17 new units, which exceeds a 15% pace. Willmarth said there are over 65 in the pipeline.

“We expect that (15%) to continue. It’s been a challenging couple of years, but when you start where you have great food and a strong support structure, when you talk about the consumer proposition, it’s just as important as the business opportunity for entrepreneurs,” he said. “That’s what I get excited about.”

As it grows, Mooyah will focus on an owner/operator model, providing royalty relief for three years if those operators stay on their development schedule. Most of the development – about two-thirds – is coming from existing franchisees.

“That’s always a great sign. We attract people who believe in hospitality and quality,” Willmarth said.

In addition to ramping up its franchising model, Mooyah has also put plenty of other pieces into place to support this “revitalization” effort. It will open its first drive-thru this year, for example, and offer a more flexible roster of prototypes moving forward. Technology is also a bigger focus, as is marketing. On the tech side, the chain is investing in ordering kiosks, back-of-house systems to speed up operations, AI-driven inventory and scheduling tools, a new cloud-based training program, and more. It also has a robust loyalty program in place that recently switched from a points-based program to engaging “more people with free food.”

That said, Mooyah’s biggest area of focus hasn’t changed at all – its food. Willmarth notes that the company’s burgers are made from certified angus beef, which he added is “better quality than most steaks.” He said Mooyah’s buns are baked fresh, sides are made from scratch, there are “more toppings, more sauces,” fries are created in a 24-hour process, and its high-fat butter milkshakes use real ice cream.

“When you do things the hard way, it’s often the best way,” Willmarth said.

For those a bit less indulgent, there is also a turkey burger, a vegan burger, a keto burger, and “The Paleo.”

“If you’re following a dietary preference, we can do that. The options we have are what make us really unique,” Willmarth said.

Willmarth’s ultimate goal is to get Mooyah to be a $1 billion brand in 10 years. There is a long way to go to get there; Technomic’s data shows that the company’s sales were a little over $71 million in 2022.

“It’s a bold goal and it starts right now with the acceleration of growth, which is what we’ve been working on the last two years. We believe our growth trajectory is going to be somewhere in the 25 to 30 new unit pace by 2025-2026,” he said.

He also forecasts AUVs to grow from the current $1.4 million to $2 million, noting that if Mooyah can get to 500 restaurants at a $2 million level, the $1 billion target becomes feasible.

“That’s what we’re shooting for is the growth in AUVs primarily activated by the drive-thru locations and obviously the franchise growth has to accelerate a little bit,” he said. “But we have bold goals here. If you don’t shoot for the moon, then you’re never going to land there.”

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

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