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McAlister’s Deli has been making the transition from regional to national brand.

How McAlister’s Deli became the first GoTo Foods Brand to reach $1 billion in revenue

The Atlanta-based deli brand mostly found across the South and Midwest has been building up a loyal fanbase for 35 years

GoTo Foods, formerly Focus Brands, announced Monday that McAlister’s Deli has become the first brand in the company’s portfolio to reach $1 billion in revenue, according to its Q4 2023 financials. The Oxford, Miss.-founded deli brand known for its sandwiches and sweet tea has grown to more than 530 locations over the past 35 years and has made the jump from regional brand to national brand. For chief brand officer Mike Freeman, much of McAlister’s Deli’s momentum comes down to being a people-centric company.

“A key part of our success is tenure and continuity, but between ownership and branding, it's a really healthy composition of people that have been working together for a long time, so we trust each other,” Mike Freeman, chief brand officer of McAlister’s Deli, told Nation’s Restaurant News at the recent GoTo Foods conference in Las Vegas. “Every single decision we make goes through two windows: ‘how’s it affecting our franchisees?’ and ‘how’s it affecting our customer base?’”

As a result of making decisions very carefully with a people-centric mindsight, Freeman said that McAlister’s Deli is more precise about new products or new features it wants to roll out. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have the backing of a much larger restaurant holding company.

“I see a lot of brands that fail fast by testing out a lot of stuff at once,” he said. “Our strategy starts with the end in mind, and I think that by doing that, we've limited our failure rate, which has allowed us to load our pipeline faster.”

More specifically, Freeman said that McAlister’s Deli has recently invested in expanding dayparts and a big catering push, the latter of which allows more people to try the brand for the first time all at once. Then, once they get a taste for the brand at a corporate event or private party, they are more likely to come back on their own during their lunch hour. On the technology side, McAlister’s Deli has invested heavily in both loyalty programs and AI-backed digital upselling, which provides personalized recommendations for loyal customers.

“If you are ordering the vegetarian options all the time, and then we suggest turkey as an add-on, it feels like we don’t know you at all—we should be suggesting avocado,” Freeman said. “You have to look back the entire customer journey and think, ‘this person made a very clear decision to get out of their house today come and see us. So, we are leveraging the strength of our brand now.’”

With a strong catering and digital ordering presence, McAlister’s Deli has leaned heavily into strengthening omnichannel capabilities that have become crucial to the growth of restaurant companies in 2024. The brand operates and manages 11 different revenue streams every day, which also includes channels like in-person ordering and curbside pickup. Matching 11 digital technology-backed revenue streams with human-led personalized service is the key to keeping customers happy, he added.

“Having that bandwidth from an operations standpoint allows us to eliminate the veto vote,” Freeman said. “If we can continue to lean into that and make sure that it's frictionless every time somebody uses it… we can better control the customer experience every single time. That’s what we’re evolving into now.”

Contact Joanna Fantozzi at [email protected]

TAGS: Finance
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