French Fry Heaven founder Scott Nelowet was inspired by Northern Europe’s simple French fry stands, which sell only one product, sometimes with mayonnaise and vinegar.
He decided to do what he said Americans often do: “Take a very simple idea and pile a lot more stuff on it.”
The result is an emporium of different fried potato combinations meant to satisfy customer needs during any daypart, except for those most other restaurants focus on.
“We don’t want lunch, breakfast or dinner. We’ll even put [other restaurants’] menus in our stores. We don’t care,” Nelowet said.
Instead, he wants to occupy every space in between, from the 10:30 a.m. shopping mall snack to the 3 p.m. pick-me-up to the 2 a.m. post-bar rush, and he wants to occupy it with two of the highest-margin items out there: French fries and drinks.
Nelowet said he researched the most popular French fry toppings all over the world and developed a list of 50, although not all of them will be available at all locations. Instead, he offers the toppings that are most suitable for each market.
The preparations are divided into two categories: Angels, made with regular potatoes, and Saints, made with sweet potatoes. Both regular and sweet potato fries are cooked in the same fryer in allergen-free peanut oil. Although sweet potato fries are often held together with breading, Nelowet decided not to do that so they could be gluten-free.
Angel toppings include ketchup, cheeseburger flavoring, curry and peanut butter. Saint toppings range from cinnamon with brown sugar and caramel, to maple syrup and salt.
Prices range from $3 for a small Angel and $4 for a small Saint, and up to $7 for large orders. A flight of three small orders is priced at $8.
Three-unit French Fry Heaven also offers seven varieties of salt for $1 each: ghost pepper, pink Himalayan, black truffle, bonfire (with smoke flavor), onion, lime fresco and vanilla bean, as well as a salt of the month. Regular sea salt is free.
Nelowet, former president of Miami International University for Art & Design and a consultant for various for-profit universities, has a marketing background.
He tested his French fry concept at various state fairs. Then he assembled 10 chief executives of major fast food chains, “because I knew I had no idea what I was doing,” he said. “One thing they said is you have to be a franchisor or a controller.”
After opening his first location, in Jacksonville, Fla., in 2010, he said he was contacted by so many franchisees that he decided to franchise. In addition to the original restaurant, French Fry Heaven currently has two franchisees — one with a kiosk in Jacksonville and another in St. Augustine, Fla. In addition, he said he has sold 69 franchises that are in the works in New York, New Jersey, New England, New Orleans and Texas.
Each current location already has unique French fry offerings. Garlic Parm Angels are available only at one of the Jacksonville locations and cheeseburger flavor at the other one. Datil Angels, named for a variety of hot peppers, are available in St. Augustine, where they are popular.
Franchising models have been developed for indoor and outdoor kiosks, standalone units and mobile trucks. Build-out costs, including working capital, are between $140,000 and $220,000, Nelowet said.
Although he’s legally restrained from disclosing the average check, he said it was higher than he expected.
He also said he was surprised that the three units have become destinations rather than opportunity locations. “We’re driving traffic,” he said.
Guests who go to French Fry Heaven for a snack also stop at nearby restaurants to complete their meal. Restaurants near one of the units have reported a 13-percent increase in sales.