New Orleans-based Ruby Slipper Restaurant Group marks its 15th anniversary this year and plans to celebrate with its largest growth forecast yet. The company plans to add six-to-eight restaurants, which translates to about 30-to-40% growth for the 20-plus-unit brunch concept that includes the Ruby Slipper and Ruby Sunshine banners.
This would get the company back to its pre-pandemic expansion targets that slowed to a trickle in 2020. During a recent interview, CEO Peter Gaudreau said the company is better positioned now, as the team has spent the past couple of years “working on the intricacies of the business.” Those intricacies include a new “people plan,” anchored by a new operating partner program.
“We are now putting the GM in a position of entrepreneurship and helping them to be the fabric of their neighborhood,” Gaudreau said. “It has helped us recruit and execute more consistently and develop the right people who aspire to be something more. I’d say this is one of our strongest moves as a company.”
Ruby Slipper has also built a support center team over the past two years, including leaders that oversee real estate and construction, training, operations, finance and purchasing. This move provided a solid infrastructure for growth, Gaudreau said. On the operational side, Ruby Slipper integrated third-party delivery and off-premises business like carryout and catering. The company has also added new equipment and operational procedures to achieve more efficiencies.
“We are now able to serve over 1,000 guests in eight hours in some of our smaller restaurants,” he said. “The past three years have provided us with a lot of opportunity to refine our tools, from table management programs to kitchen throughput efforts with [kitchen display systems] and more.”
On the menu, Gaudreau said the company has improved portion sizes while maintaining its 45 offerings – not including its robust beverage lineup featuring everything from a morning margarita to award-winning Bloody Marys to seasonal mimosa flights. Gaudreau says the company specializes in eggs benedict, with eight different options available.
“We have an abundant menu that we’ve flexed throughout the past few years to see what would stick and what we might be missing, and it’s now back to a place where we are comfortable as a brand built on a foundation of our food and beverage,” he said. “We want to own brunch and to do so we think of our concept as a place to come and celebrate around the table with food and cocktails – all of the classics with a New Orleans twist.”
Gaudreau said the food is the brand’s big differentiator, but so is that “around the table” piece. Ruby Slipper was founded in New Orleans in 2008 as the city was still very much recovering from Hurricane Katrina. The concept’s mission was simple: To create connections within the community and provide a place to gather.
“That continues to be our focus as we look for expansion opportunities,” Gaudreau said. “That’s our ‘why.’”
Of course, all of those “intricacies” and that mission sound good on paper, but for the company to achieve its targeted expansion plans, the unit economics also need to make sense. Gaudreau has confidence here, adding that company’s volumes are “above the brunch segment substantially,” and each new restaurant has performed “very well.”
“Our sales have increased 20-plus percent since 2019 while managing a very slight price increase,” he said. “We’ve managed to find opportunities with our vendor partners to continue our quality and portions while mitigating price, and we’ve endured a lot of the pressures everyone in the industry has, from labor to inflation to insurance. We are back to pre-pandemic profitability.”
And so, the company is set up for a record growth year in 2023 and beyond. This year, Ruby Slipper has already opened one new restaurant in Destin, Florida, and will soon open in Gainesville, Florida, Matthews, North Carolina, and Columbia, South Carolina. At least eight more are expected in 2024 as well.
“We’d like to keep that 30-to-40% growth rate because that is a healthy and responsible way to grow. It allows us to support those restaurants and people so we can open successfully and deliver our brand promise,” Gaudreau said. The target markets are Florida, North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama. The company is also currently exploring new markets, like Texas.
“As the brunch space becomes more vibrant, we’re excited about our growth and believe we are very well positioned to be one of the strongest players in the segment,” Gaudreau said. “It’s hard not to have the best food and beverage in the category hailing from New Orleans.”
Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]