Carl Bachmann has spent the past six years as president of Smashburger. Today, we learned he’ll take on the CEO role of fast casual burger peer BurgerFi starting July 10. He’ll take over for Ian Baines, who announced his retirement in May.
In an interview Tuesday morning, Bachmann said the decision to move to into the top role at what many consider to be a competitor was an easy one.
“The reason I chose to do this is because of the excitement of the leadership that’s there and the opportunity to lead two iconic brands with great quality food. Both BurgerFi and Anthony’s [Coal Fired Pizza & Wings] have great quality products,” he said.
BurgerFi acquired Anthony’s in 2021 amid a challenging run in which the company incurred sizable debt and closed dozens of underperforming restaurants. It’s far too soon for Bachmann to discuss how he’ll navigate any lingering challenges, but he notes he was brought into Smashburger and, before that, Bertucci’s, to help with their “transitions” and he is plenty optimistic about BurgerFi’s future.
“I love helping companies and when a company has good bones, like this one, it’s exciting,” he said. “The look forward is simple – to deliver a great product, great service and a great experience.”
Bachmann’s leadership roadmap is highlighted by what he calls the three Ws – win for the guests, win for the team members, and win for the shareholders, which include both investors and franchisees. He has also adhered to five key tenets for every job he’s held and intends to do the same with BurgerFi.
“Number one is infrastructure – to have the best team on the field to play and to develop and train those teams. Number two is taste. Taste and quality are paramount in everything we do. Three is defining our portfolio and understanding where we’re successful and where we’re struggling from a real estate, regional, market perspective and then, of course, the portfolio inside the four walls. Is the ambience right? Is the look and feel and entertainment value right?” he said.
Four is ensuring there is a strong audit process in place to make sure the team is consistently executing on attributes like safety and cleanliness. Five is “telling the world” about the brands through intentional marketing efforts.
With that roadmap and those tenets as his guide, Bachmann plans to double down on BurgerFi’s and Anthony’s strengths.
“High quality is the starter. That’s the entry ticket. If you don’t have that, you can’t play. We’re going to make sure we continue to have that with the best products and innovative LTOs that are truly Americana,” he said. “And if you think about the challenges behind us and in front of us, whether it’s the pandemic or a recession, the key is comfort in uncomfortable times and that’s an advantage for both brands.”
His wheels have also started to spin about deeper co-branding opportunities between the two.
“I think there is a lot of crossover potential to share brands and maybe even co-operate in different facilities and structures,” he said. “We will run collectively together, not independently, is my goal.”
Such an approach, he adds, will maximize the efficiencies of scale and profitability, while enabling better management of corporate expenses and G&A.
“There are a lot of things on the backend we can do together,” he said. “It also creates opportunities for our employees to grow their careers, too. There’s a lot there from the consumer side in cobranding and sharing some of the great things we offer, but more importantly, there’s a lot there for great talent looking for their next opportunity.”
Technology is also top-of-mind for Bachmann and he’s no stranger to experimenting with such innovation. Smashburger, for instance, recently unveiled a mobile order-ahead prototype, which allows the back-of-house to better time consumers’ arrival. Bachmann believes this type of tech-enabled productivity is the key to “playing into the future” for BurgerFi as well.
“BurgerFi does a great job with kiosks, and I believe they are a stopgap. The future is the utilization of digital through apps and websites and mobile phones. The future is going to be us focusing on software and making sure we have the best apps and experiences and embrace digital so we can use consumers’ commute time as our cook time. That’s the demand that we have to meet,” he said. “There’s a chance for us to evolve on the tech side. It’s a big focus of mine.”
First, however, Bachmann’s priority is to meet the teams and the franchisees and to “immerse himself” in the restaurants to learn more about the food.
“I can’t wait to work on the pizza oven and flip the burgers,” he said. “I can’t wait to learn about the history and the culture from the teams and people who have built these brands. That culture, for me, is the most important thing.”
Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]