When J.R. Galardi took a larger leadership role at Wienerschntizel, the Millennial executive constantly ran into people who would ask him the same thing about the hot dog chain his father founded in 1961.
“Are you guys still around?” they would ask.
Galardi, then in his early 20s, knew he had to do something to make the brand top of mind. About a year after his father, John Galardi, passed away the young executive became president of the company’s new Visionary Department. The division took aim at Millennials through social media campaigns and promotions with actions sports celebrities.
The Irvine, Calif.-based brand has since aged down slightly, said Galardi, now 29, who was promoted to company president last December.
During an NRN interview, Galardi discussed upcoming milestones for the brand including the retail launch of Wienerschnitzel-branded chili in a can, a new book about his father’s fast-food legacy, and a different approach to celebrating the chain’s 57th birthday.
How did you respond when people thought Wienerschnitzel didn’t exist?
Shoot. We need to start letting people know we are here. I knew we had to educate Millennials that we still have a delicious product.
What did you do specifically?
We’ve been more active on marketing. We engage the brand with younger audiences through social media, brand partnerships and sponsorships with [action sports events] like Supercross, U.S. Open of Surfing and other athletic partnerships. We get out to events and activate, and give out free hot dogs. We do a lot of music festivals. It’s fun stuff.
Has it worked to age down the brand?
Our core demographic is 50/50 male, female. It skewed down from 48 to 46 years old. To skew it two years is pretty significant.
What about sales?
We’ve been up year over year-on-sales for the past 6 to 7 years. The QSR industry as a whole has been down year-over-year, but we’ve had positive systemwide sales growth.
With competition tougher than ever in QSR, how do you achieve positive sales growth?
You’re competing for that share of stomach. How can I convince people to come to my restaurant? It’s getting more and more difficult to get people in the door. That’s true for us, but our transaction count is up. We have put a huge emphasis on three things: image, cleanliness and customer service. For us, there’s no excuse for a dirty restaurant. From the time they park in the parking lot, use the bathroom, and order, it should be the best 15 minutes of their day.
Why did you decide to sell Wienerschnitzel chili in the can?
We get a ton of fans reaching out on social media, or comment online, asking to “bring Wienerschnitzel here.” Also, asking, “How can I get your chili?” So, we came up with a recipe [suitable for distribution by cans]. We make our chili fresh in the store. This is pretty darn close. You can order it on the website. We’ve only announced on social media, and we’ve sold over 500 cans.
Can you buy it in any of your units?
If it does work by selling on the website, then the idea is to let franchisees sell cans in the restaurants.
What’s the main difference in the recipe?
It’s the same texture. Very close in taste. The main difference is the [can version] has to have a shelf life of more than two days.
How much is a 15-oz can?
What are your thoughts on delivery?
Delivery is the Wild West. So many companies. We’re currently looking at all the options and working to negotiate rates, and who delivers the best product.
Fast food doesn’t carry very well for a long time in a car. Is that a concern?
Yes. That’s one of the big things we look at. Different delivery companies have different rules. UberEats will not delivery multiple items at a time. It’s one order. It’s very important to us to preserve the food quality as best we can.
Tell us more about “Drive-Thru Life,” the book The Galardi group published about the life of your father, John Galardi.
It was my mom’s idea. [Cindy Galardi Culpepper is CEO of Wienerschnitzel’s parent company Galardi Group]. It’s really a history of him through other people’s eyes. We interviewed everyone from franchisees to his first wife to ex-employees. It’s basically a coffee table book. There’s a ton of old photos. It’s retelling the American dream.
Give us a teaser for those who don’t know your dad’s story?
He came to California on a bus from a farm in Missouri. He couldn’t find a job. He saw a guy hosing down the street in front of a Taco Tia. The guy was Glen Bell. [Note: Glen Bell is the founder of Taco Bell.] He got a job. He worked there a few years. He opened his own business, across the street from Taco Tia. He didn’t want to do tacos because Bell was a friend. Nobody was doing hot dogs so he decided to give hot dogs a try.
My grandmother came up with the chili recipe. [Editor’s Note: The book will be available for download on Aug. 1.]
And, now you celebrate your father’s legacy July 10 with a hot dog giveaway.
We’re as All-American as it gets with a German name. We’ll do 57-cent hot dogs. We started [this giveaway] two years go with 55 cent hot dogs. Our stores are slammed. It’s hard for staff to keep up all day. This year, we changed [the giveaway] times from 11-8 p.m., and with a 10-item limit per transaction or per car in the drive-thru.
Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected]
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