Maggie McFly’s started 30 years ago as a restaurant for everyone in the fine-casual space, though it was largely driven by its bar, according to the brand’s founder Ray Harper.
“Somebody once told me that at the bar you'll make your money, but your food is your longevity,” said Harper.
The Middlebury, Conn.-based brand is now about 75% food and 25% liquor sales.
“Our priority always will be the food,” said Harper.
About 10 years ago, the team at Maggie McFly’s decided to revamp the ingredients, turning the kitchen into a scratch-made kitchen.
This kitchen doesn’t just have a few simple ingredients. No, the menu reads like a book, with Harper saying that they don’t ever take anything off the menu.
“I don’t want anybody to say that they can’t find something on my menu,” he said. “Everybody sits in the car and tries to figure out where to go. Now you come to Maggie McFly’s because everybody will be satisfied.”
The brand has a Nashville Hot Chicken sandwich — it’s one of the bestsellers — along with street tacos, which were popular about 10 years ago.
“[We’re] just always trying to stay with the trends,” Harper said.
It was around the time of the street tacos that the brand decided to go local with its ingredients, forming a beneficial relationship between local purveyors and Maggie McFly’s.
“It’s hard, don't get me wrong, it’s very difficult to go into market to do that sort of thing,” said Harper. “But what we find is we wind up meeting these people and create a really cool relationship with them. Then throughout our menu, we promote them, and we run full-page ads for them. It just becomes this cross-pollination where they help support us, we help support them.”
Finding new local suppliers is difficult as Maggie McFly’s has expanded out of Middlebury, where it started in 1993. So far, the restaurant has locations in Virginia, New York, and Connecticut. Its latest opening is in Boca Raton, Fla., scheduled for this fall.
“We just wanted to get out of Connecticut and New England,” Harper said. “Honestly, if you can do it there, you can do it anywhere.”
He is now taking Maggie McFly’s to what he sees as the hottest dining destination: Florida.
It became popular with restaurateurs during the pandemic because it had fewer masking regulations, and people moved to Florida in droves once the work-from-home culture began.
With the population boom came restaurants, a trend Maggie McFly’s is hoping to capitalize on with its ninth unit.
“I’ve designed my menus by going out and seeing what’s trending,” Harper said. “And so it’s a great research and development place to go.”
Despite the economy’s volatility, Harper feels Maggie McFly’s is situated right in a sweet spot.
“When the economy is good, people step up, and then when the economy is bad people drop down, and we’re in the middle,” Harper said.
The brand has never closed a store, and all units have remained profitable, according to Harper.
Another thing he noted was the brand’s workplace culture and how he’s built a place where people feel they can have a career.
The C-suite, aside from the chief financial officer, all started out as members of the restaurant staff. Whether it be dishwashers or busboys or food runners or servers, most of the leadership team at Maggie McFly’s is “homegrown talent,” as Harper said.
“This is a pure culture that has been developed over 30 years,” he said.
Since the talent is homegrown, Harper hasn’t had to train people out of bad habits they learned from other restaurant groups. He’s crafted his ideal team.
Harper always wanted to go to Florida, but was worried about how to move his talent down there until his management from Virginia approached him and said they wanted to move to Florida. The husband-and-wife team were relocating and Harper thought it would be a perfect opportunity to open up a restaurant where they chose to live. That way he could retain his talent and open a new location.
“They are phenomenal, I’m going to be opening up with my best,” said Harper.