McAlister's Deli, the fast-casual sandwich chain owned by Atlanta-based Focus Brands Inc., has significant growth plans. On Wednesday, the brand announced a 98-unit deal with multi-unit operator, Sun Holdings, Inc. Although Sun Holdings has over 750 restaurants across several brands, the deal marks president and CEO Guillermo Perales's first fast-casual concept.
McAlister's Deli, known by fans for its sweet tea, appealed to Perales, in part, because there was "a lot of room to grow," he said. "In this case, there is so much empty territory that my job becomes a lot easier."
Perales will be developing and remodeling units across Texas, New Mexico and Louisiana, with a focus in Florida, here Sun Holdings has a strong foothold.
Last month, McAlister's announced it had signed another big franchise deal. This one was a 30-unit franchise agreement with its largest franchisee, Southern Rock Restaurants, LLC, making the franchisee the largest and only franchisee with over 100 McAlister's units. Southern Rock is opening locations in Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, as well as one in Tennessee and one in Georgia.
This growth comes at a time of change for McAlister's Deli. Joe Guith was named brand president in April of 2018, and he has led the brand through a design change, with the first prototype unveiled in September of 2018.
The remodel includes a new logo, uniform, and look with an emphasis on community. Each new location has a community table and community mural and photo wall highlighting neighborhood patrons and landmarks.
Getting a new location up and running is a mix of working with franchisees and managers who are familiar with the neighborhood, and "a strong marketing function and support function" from McAlister's, said Guith. The brand prides itself on making connections at churches, schools and rotary clubs, for example, but historically shuns traditional media.
"We come in and connect with the community," said Guith. "We find that far more powerful than the traditional and candidly more expensive mediums (of advertising)."
The lack of traditional advertising can sometime surprise franchisees, he said. But the connecting with the community is part of the brands ethos.
While Guith stressed that his concept is a fit for both small and large franchisees, the push to look for established franchisees is part of McAlister's growth plan, he said. The McAlister's brand has a nice blend of large, sophisticated operators as well as what we call hometown heroes," he said.
"It was very obvious if we want to continue to grow at an aggressive pace, we need some more large franchisees," he said.
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